Hurricane Approaching

Ole Miss, after four straight home games to begin its season, plays its first road game at Miami tonight at 6 p.m. Read about it inside.

It had been nearly a week, six days to be exact, since Ole Miss had lost its first game of the season – a disappointing, 78-71 loss to Dayton in overtime. The Rebels were welcoming Penn State to Tad Smith Coliseum, marking the fourth consecutive home game to open the 2010-11 season.

Sophomore forward Reginald Buckner had been hurt a minute into the second half with a knee injury. He never returned. And as quickly as the 6-foot-9, 238-pound shot-blocking force went down, a double-digit lead crumbled.

"I wish (Buckner's importance to the team) wasn't as profound," head coach Andy Kennedy said a few days later. "He gives us quite a presence at the basket, athletically."

Reginald Buckner

Kennedy mixed and matched with personnel. Demarco Cox, a freshman, and Steadman Short, also a newcomer, were given more minutes. Veteran forward Terrance Henry spent more time in the post than on the perimeter.

But despite their efforts, Ole Miss fell short. Dayton won in overtime.

"With him going down, it was a problem for us winning the game," Henry said. "But we can't blame that on Reggie going down, because we still had chances to win."

Kennedy, at least publicly, wouldn't put any more stock into yet another important non-conference game, this time against Penn State.

In interviews, he was the same, confident head coach. Every game on the schedule is important in building a resume for the NCAA Tournament.

But with extra time to prepare due to Thanksgiving break, he pushed his team in the gym. That added work was rewarded when Ole Miss (3-1) rebounded with a convincing 84-71 win over the Nittany Lions.

"This team could've easily started doubting itself (after the loss to Dayton)," Kennedy said.

Now in the meat of their schedule and facing a stiff challenge with their first road game of the year at Miami today at 6 p.m., Kennedy is anxious to see how the team builds off a win it needed.

Andy Kennedy

The Hurricanes, according to RealTimeRPI, have an RPI rank of 66. Miami's strength of schedule rank is 97.

More importantly, Dayton suffered a headline-grabbing loss to still-undefeated Cincinnati Saturday. The Flyers fell to 5-1 on the season following the 68-34 blowout. RealTimeRPI has Dayton with an RPI rank of 37 and SOS rank of 94.

"(The RPI) has changed the whole formula," Kennedy said. "I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but it is what it is. So you certainly have to be cognizant of each and every game, not only trying to garner quality wins, but stay away from damaging losses, because those are hard to overcome."

Ole Miss' first three non-league opponents (Arkansas State, Murray State and Dayton) featured teams predicted to finish at or near the top of their respective conferences.

Murray State, who Ole Miss defeated earlier this month, was a second-round NCAA Tournament team last season, while Dayton beat Ole Miss in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament, before claiming the 2010 NIT championship.

"We set (the schedule) up like this, simply because we need to see where we are," Kennedy said. "These type games, I think you find out a lot about your team."

Miami, meanwhile, is off to a 4-2 start, including a 3-0 record at home. The Hurricanes are riding a two-game win streak after they beat McNeese State at home and won at Florida Gulf Coast. Malcolm Grant leads Miami with a 13.7 scoring average and 17 3-pointers made.

Miami lost to then No. 19 Memphis, 72-68, in its season-opener.

"I'm anxious to see how this team responds (against Miami), because we haven't been on the road yet," Kennedy said. "You go into an environment against an ACC opponent, a talented team, a team that has ACC-quality players. So I'm anxious to see how this group responds."

This is the third meeting between Ole Miss and Miami. Miami leads the series 2-0. Ole Miss owns a 17-24 all-time record against current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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