Hot shooting propels Ole Miss past Illinois State 81-74
By KIRK WESSLER
NORMAL, Ill. (AP) It took Mississippi until the end of February to win a true road game last season. This season, it took less than a month.
The Rebels guards took turns dominating the game Saturday night, and Ole Miss defeated Missouri Valley Conference contender Illinois State 81-74.
"That's a good road win for us," first-year Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said. "For a team trying to learn to win on the road . we played some really quality basketball."
Ole Miss, which was 1-10 in true road games a year ago, is 1-1 after two tries this season. The Rebels, who lost at Butler in mid-November, made 60 percent of their shots through the first 25 minutes against Illinois State and finished with a .526 field-goal percentage.
"They're just big, physical guards that we don't play against a lot," Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. "The one thing they do in general is take good shots, and they score at all three levels: mid-range, pullups and at the rim."
Davis hopes those guards will turn into Southeastern Conference success for the Rebels.
"You look at the SEC, and I don't know if there's a more experienced backcourt," Davis said. "Those two guys can score. We've got a chance every time out with those two guys."
Illinois State (6-5) splashed a trio of 3-pointers and got to the rim easily in the first 10 minutes, but Ole Miss (6-2) outscored the Redbirds 18-6 over a six-minute stretch to lead 34-25 with 5:25 left in the first half and never trailed again. The Rebels stretched their lead to 14 points early in the second half before Illinois State whittled the margin to six in the final minute.
Ole Miss: The win gives the Rebels a three-game winning streak for the first time this season as they try to build momentum for the Southeastern Conference schedule. The Rebels play four more games before opening league play at Vanderbilt on Jan. 5.
Illinois State: The Redbirds, after a four-game winning streak, now have lost three in a row and have only two games left to get back on track before the Missouri Valley Conference slate begins Jan. 2 at Valparaiso.
The game closed a two-year, home-and-home series that was prompted by ISU coach Dan Muller's Twitter post in the 2017 offseason. Muller's tweet appealed to coaches at all of the Power 5 conference members. Andy Kennedy, then coach at Ole Miss, replied and agreed to play.
Illinois State beat the Rebels in an overtime game on the road last year.
The only other Southeastern Conference team to visit ISU since 1978 was Texas A&M, in the 2014 Collegiate Basketball Invitational.
STAT OF THE GAME
Ole Miss outscored Illinois State 12-0 on fast break points.
At 535 miles from the Ole Miss campus, Redbird Arena is the northernmost facility in which the Rebels are scheduled to play during the regular season.
Illinois State is now 10-4 all-time against the 14 current members of the SEC, including 4-1 vs. Ole Miss.
Ole Miss will return to Mississippi to play Southeastern Louisiana in Jackson on Wednesday, its first appearance in the state's capital city since 2007.
Illinois State has a week off for final exams before playing at home Dec. 16 against Cleveland State.
Updated December 8, 2018