Why things fell apart for Ole Miss basketball, Chris Beard despite exciting start


OXFORD ― Even amid the winning, Ole Miss basketball coach Chris Beard was leaving hints.

After a narrow victory over Sam Houston on Nov. 17, he said the Rebels had a long way to go as a basketball team. On Nov. 28, after they raised eyebrows with a demolition of NC State, he noted in his opening statement that they needed to rebound better. When they beat Bryant by 17 points to close out their nonconference slate, Beard called his team a “work in progress” on defense.

All of that came within a 13-0 start for the Rebels — tied for the best in program history. When SEC play started, the losses began to trickle. When the calendar flipped to February, they flowed. Ole Miss lost eight of its final 10 regular-season games, and Beard’s criticisms became more overt. His team’s discipline levels, he repeatedly explained, were not where they needed to be.

On Saturday, after the Rebels (20-11) capped their season with an embarrassing 26-point loss to Texas A&M in which they were outrebounded 50-21, Beard confirmed what the early-season crumbs he’d left behind suggested.

“We’ve had issues all season, if you guys go back and check my comments all the way through,” he said. “I’ve always been — I don’t know if concerned is the word or not — but I can tell you this: This team does not have the discipline that it takes to win the SEC. You know, doing the right thing time after time after time. And so I’ll just stand true to that today. I’m not pulling that out of my back pocket on a disappointing day.”

This season — Beard’s first at Ole Miss after athletic director Keith Carter stirred controversy by hiring him to replace Kermit Davis — set an initial trajectory that had Oxford buzzing. Even after the realities of SEC play removed the shine of Ole Miss’ unbeaten start, the Rebels sat 5-3 in conference play after breaking their attendance record during a home win over Mississippi State.

There are statistical reasons for the tailspin that followed. Ole Miss spent the first 21 games of its season shooting the 3-pointer at a clip nearly seven percentage points better than the opposition. In its past 10 games, the Rebels were roughly five percentage points worse than their foes. Since the losing began, they’ve forced more than two fewer turnovers per game and stopped sharing the ball as effectively.

But Beard’s explanation for the collapse has never involved statistics.

To illustrate his point, he brought only 5-foot-5 walk-on guard Cam Brent — known within the program as “Muggs” — to the postgame news conference after Ole Miss lost to Texas A&M.

REFUND?: Why Chris Beard wants to reimburse Ole Miss basketball fans after Texas A&M drubbing

“Muggs doesn’t have a scholarship,” Beard said. “He pays his own way through school. Muggs doesn’t benefit from name, image and likeness financially. I tell you what Muggs does have, is Muggs has heart, he’s a competitor and Muggs is one of those guys who doesn’t lose.”

“Muggs plays Fort Scott basketball,” Beard continued, listing his prior stops, “Seminole basketball, South Carolina Warriors basketball, McMurry basketball, Angelo State basketball, Little Rock basketball, Texas Tech basketball, Texas basketball. And we’ll get to the point where we have effort and players like Muggs who take the court for us here.”

This was, of course, Beard’s first season on the job. Team identity can take more than 12 months to shape.

It’s also true that it’s easier than ever for coaches to win in Year 1, thanks to the transfer portal. Six of the 14 coaches to take over power conference jobs last season went to the NCAA tournament right away, including Chris Jans at Mississippi State.

“A lot of people don’t think the first year matters,” Beard said at SEC Media Days in October. “I respectfully disagree. Don’t put a mulligan, an asterisk, next to this first-year Ole Miss team. It’s our players, our staff. We’re fighting time a little bit. No excuses. Everybody has obstacles. One of our obstacles will be time this year.”

Ole Miss’ time is almost up. This team is far and away the worst defensive unit Beard has ever coached at the Division I level, and in his own view, lacks the required competitive spirit. Now it needs a miracle run at the SEC tournament in Nashville to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

“Got a lot of guys in our organization that have to make a decision,” Beard said. “Who am I? What’s my last name? And, you know, have some pride.”

David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at deckert@gannett.com or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.

Get the latest news and insight on SEC football by subscribing to the SEC Unfiltered newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox

Latest news
Related news