His team had just lost to Ole Miss, 80-67, but the game had been much closer early. The Rebels wore Rutgers down, flipping a slow start into a strong second-half finish.
Ole Miss did nothing to surprise Rice. He knew the challenge, the identity of the Rebels, how they wanted to force-feed forwards Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner and beat his team into submission.
“They’re very consistent in what they do,” he said afterwards. “They’re very consistent in their approach. Their role guys understand their roles about as well as anybody I’ve faced in a long time, and they stick to that very well.
“That’s hard to play against, because they really don’t come outside themselves. They do what they do. They’re going to play a physical, tough style of basketball.”
There’s no secret to Ole Miss’ 6-0 start to the 2012 season. Its offense is run through the front court and its defense is unrelenting in its aggressiveness.
Ole Miss ranks in the top-10 nationally in scoring offense, averaging 87 points per game. Defensively, the Rebels lead the SEC and rank second in the nation in field goal percentage defense and 10th in 3-point percentage defense. Ole Miss leads the nation in turnover margin at +9.0.
A product, it seems, of how the players have bought into their roles.
“It’s role definition,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “For one thing, we try to make sure guys understand what they’re supposed to be doing.
“I’ve made it abundantly clear with this group, our scholarship players all bring a different skill-set. We recruited them for different reasons.”
Take senior Nick Williams, for instance. To borrow a baseball term, he’s the utility infielder, the master of versatility.
As one of the Rebels’ better on-ball defenders, he can guard an opposing team’s best offensive player. He’s capable from 3, though he’d rather generate his offense by penetrating the lane.
“Whatever coach needs me to do, whatever the guys need me to do, I feel like I can do it,” he said.
“That’s what sets me apart from a lot of people on this team and in this league. You hear coach talk about it; there’s no two guys on this team that do the same thing. That’s what makes this team special.”
Jarvis Summers, who starts at point guard, is averaging 6.5 points per game. But his role isn’t that of scorer. No, he’s the distributor, the leader of the offense. His 23 assists lead the team. He’s turned the ball over just three times, while recording five steals.
“We’re just a team,” Summers said. “Each player has their different role. Marshall (Henderson), he’s a shooter. Me, I’m going to penetrate and get the team going. Murphy, Reggie, they rebound and do what they have got do. Everybody else follows what we do.”
Ole Miss will need its all-hands-on-deck approach when it travels to Middle Tennessee State (6-2) for a Saturday-afternoon tilt at 4 p.m. The Blue Raiders return four starters off of a 27-win team from a year ago, including a win over Ole Miss in Southaven.
“Our group is beginning to understand their role on this team,” Kennedy said. “That’ll be a constant evolvement as different guys emerge, minutes change. But I’ve been pleased so far with guys doing what they're ask to do.”
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“We play with this huge chip on our shoulder,” Williams said. “People don’t expect us to accomplish some things. If we work hard, we’ll be able to do it.”
Millinghaus to play:
Freshman point guard Derrick Millinghaus, who was injured in the Rebels’ win over UALR Nov. 16, will be available when Ole Miss meets Middle Tennessee State.
Millinghaus scored a career-high 19 points against UALR. He was expected to miss 4-6 weeks following surgery for a lateral meniscus tear in his knee.
“A lot of times, college athletes aren’t normal people,” Kennedy said. “He’s two weeks post-op(eration). He’s back to on-court activity. He’ll be dressed and available Saturday.
“My greatest indication was when he came out of surgery and he had very little swelling. I knew he’d be back quick.”
Ole Miss junior forward Jason Carter has been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules, head coach Andy Kennedy announced on Friday.
Carter did not see action for the Rebels in his first season with the squad. A junior college transfer, Carter started his career at Alabama before transferring to Chipola Junior College.