Happy Travels

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy needed someone to make a play. Anyone.

Follow SpiritBen on Twitter

Murphy Holloway delivered.

Ole Miss and DePaul were tied at 68 apiece with less than 10 seconds left to play in regulation. After two missed DePaul free throws, Holloway allowed an offensive rebound. But he hustled for a steal and raced the length of the court for the game-winning basket, sending Ole Miss to its sixth win in seven games to open the 2011-12 season Thursday night.

"He's got very, very quick hands and he's very active," Kennedy said of Holloway postgame. "He just got his hand on a ball and made a play and was able to get to the rim and finish."

The win was an important one. Yes, Ole Miss allowed DePaul to battle back from a 17-point deficit. Still, the Rebels secured a non-conference win they desperately needed in an important week for building their NCAA tournament resume.

With the win, Ole Miss improved its RPI to No. 21 nationally, according to RealTimeRPI.com. The Rebels meet Penn State Sunday at 5 p.m. CT in Happy Valley. The game will be broadcast by the Big Ten Network.

"We need to keep improving. It's still very early in the season. We're finding out some things out about our team -- some we like, some we'd like to change," Kennedy said. "But it's a big week because it's also the last two games prior to Jelan (Kendrick) and Snoop (Ladarius White) being eligible, which will help our team immediately and strengthen us in some areas we need to improve upon."

Murphy Holloway
US Presswire

Ole Miss has never won a road game against a Big Ten team. In their last two games, however, the Rebels bucked ugly historical trends. They claimed the program's first home win over an ACC foe (Miami) and first road win over a Big East opponent (DePaul).

Sunday's game will be the third straight BCS opponent for Ole Miss.

"The one area that we haven't had to coach with this group is effort. Attitude's been pretty good, effort's been pretty consistent," Kennedy said.

Ole Miss has rebounded from its 30-point loss to Marquette in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Rebels downed TCU a game later to finish in third place in the tournament, then returned home to beat Miami. Ole Miss capped its three-game winning streak with the win in Chicago.

The win over DePaul came in the Rebels' first true road game of the season.

"I think for a young team, especially for a young back court, I think it showed this group has the potential to be pretty resilient, which I think is the bottom line in college basketball," Kennedy said. "I was proud that we were able to bounce back … because the way that we lost (to Marquette) could have been devastating."

Kennedy said the team is slowly finding its way. Kendrick and White are expected to be cleared for game action Dec. 10 against Mississippi Valley State. Kendrick, a transfer from Memphis, was forced to sit out a full calendar year due to NCAA transfer rules. White had to meet academic benchmarks set forth by the NCAA to gain eligibility.

The dynamics of the back court could change dramatically once Kendrick and White are cleared. True freshman point guard Jarvis Summers has started three straight games since the loss to Marquette, supplanting opening-day starter Dundrecous Nelson. Summers is averaging 13.0 points and 2.0 assists in his starts.

Kendrick and White, Kennedy said, are primary ball-handlers and can play a range of positions, not just point guard. And he's been pleased with the progress of Summers. Kennedy said he'll work Kendrick and White in where they're needed most.

"I've been really pleased with Jarvis. We saw him grow up tremendously from Marquette to TCU to Miami. He's still, with each and every game, he's garnering that much-needed experience," Kennedy said. "He's got a good feel. He plays with a good tempo and is doing a good job of managing the game, and that ultimately is the job of the point guard.

Jelan Kendrick
Ben Garrett

"What we need, we need to take some pressure off, and I think with Jelan and with Snoop becoming eligible, it'll take some pressure off, ‘cause both are primary ball-handlers."

Kendrick is close to returning to practice in full after he was forced to sit out a few weeks due to surgery for a sports hernia.

"It's unfortunate that he had that procedure for his development," Kennedy said. "It's about three weeks before you can get back on the floor. We're past that point. He's running. He's pain free.

"My hope is next week he can get back to full-contact basketball in the week leading up to him becoming eligible from a transfer standpoint."

The Rebels boast a 71-18 against teams outside the SEC since Kennedy took over as head coach in 2006-07. Ole Miss went 12-4 in non-conference games a year ago. Ole Miss beat Penn State 84-71 last season in Oxford, the first ever meeting between the schools.

OM Spirit Top Stories