Kennedy, in his seventh season coaching the Rebels, said the win, among other things, validated Ole Miss (13-2, 2-0) as a contender in a wide-open Southeastern Conference.
“It was an opportunity to play the 10th-ranked team in the country, a team I think is outstanding,” he said. “Obviously (Missouri leading scorer) Laurence Bowers didn't play, and he's a very good player, but it was an opportunity we needed to take advantage of if we're going to be taken seriously.”
The Rebels are certainly being taken seriously now.
Ole Miss next travels to Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday to take on Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. CST. Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings, whose team lost both of its league games last week, said Vanderbilt has “to do some growing quickly.”
Vanderbilt is 6-8 overall on the year with losses to Kentucky and Arkansas to open SEC play.
“Our team is still in the process of growing,” he said. “We need to do some growing quickly, because the tough games just keep coming in this league. There's no let-up, no breaks.
“There are a number of teams that could win the league. I certainly think that Ole Miss is one of them. Kentucky made it pretty boring last year. I doubt if you'll see that. There are a number of teams that could jump up and win the thing.”
USA TODAY images
Vanderbilt lost all five starters, including prolific scorer John Jenkins, off of last year’s team that won 25 games and advanced to the NCAA tournament third round.
Leading scorer Kedren Johnson, who is averaging 15.7 points per game, didn’t practice on Sunday. He’s questionable for the game. Whether or not he sees action will be dictated by his ability to play through pain, according to Stallings.
“I don’t know,” Stallings said. “It will be a pain tolerance thing.”
Despite the issues facing Vanderbilt, Kennedy sees a formidable opponent in the Commodores. It doesn’t hurt that Vanderbilt will be at home, either. Memorial Gym, with its odd dimensions, has proven a tough place to play for Ole Miss.
The Rebels are 5-47 in Memorial Gym dating back to 1925. In the overall series, they’ve lost 10 of the last 11 to the Commodores, including five straight losses. However, Ole Miss does have three seniors - Murphy Holloway, Nick Williams and Reginald Buckner - who have experience in Memorial Gym and against Vanderbilt.
“We had a discussion about the configuration of the court. It's different when you're playing away from the bench,” Kennedy said. “You really depend on guys to take ownership and communicate among themselves.
“Coaches are typically eliminated from the conversation when the ball is away from you. It's easy to talk about, but it will be a change for our guys who have not gone through it.”
Demarco Cox won’t play. The junior forward has played sparingly this season, appearing in only seven games, due to a lingering foot injury. Kennedy is hoping he can rejoin the team soon, though he’s out indefinitely.
“We've taken away two guys (Jason Carter being the other) we thought would give us some front-court depth. (Cox) is still out indefinitely,” Kennedy said. “He's got a stress fracture in that foot.
“We're following doctor's protocol and would like to get him back, but that's not going to happen this week. My hope is that he rejoins us soon. It's a big loss, because he brings something we don't currently have, a big body. Last year he was rounding into a very good rotation player, our third big, playing 15-16 minutes a game.”