No Charity

Reginald Buckner isn't blind to his struggles at the free throw line. He admitted Tuesday he's in his own head. He's fighting a mental battle.

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By the numbers, Buckner has had a solid year, averaging 6.7 points per game and 8.8 rebounds. Buckner sits as the all-time Ole Miss career leader for blocked shots, and his 44 blocks this season lead the team by a wide margin.

But his numbers could be better, at least offensively. He knows as much. Buckner has made just 22 of his 52 attempted free throws, good for 42 percent.

"I think I put too much pressure on me. Coach told me to not think about it," he said.

College basketball, unlike its NBA counterpart, is the prototypical team game; five players working in unison on the floor towards a common goal. Free throws go against the team concept.

Head coach Andy Kennedy said the pressure of making free throws, having all eyes on a player at any given moment, can play into the mind of a player like Buckner. Actually, Buckner is a good free throw shooter in practice.

"Believe it or not, he'll go in strands where he'll 14 or 15 in a row in practice. I think it's just a mental block he has to overcome," Kennedy said. "At times I can see it affecting his aggression at the rim because he knows he's not making free throws. Why does he want to get fouled? Once we overcome that, I think he takes the next step offensively and even becomes more aggressive."

Buckner had his best game as an Ole Miss Rebel in a key win over top-20 ranked Mississippi State last Tuesday. The game was the first of back-to-back wins for Ole Miss. The Rebels, now 13-6 overall and 3-2 in Southeastern Conference games, grabbed their first league road win at Georgia Saturday.

Reginald Buckner
US Presswire

Against the in-state rival Bulldogs, Buckner had 19 points and 15 rebounds. Buckner is first in the SEC in rebounding at 11.0 rebounds per game. He's emerged as the player Kennedy said he needs Buckner to be.

Still, the shortcomings at the free throw line loom large.

"It seems like once I miss my first one, I think about it. I'm going to try not to think about it, just do my regular routine," Buckner said. "If it goes in, it goes. I can't let it get me down. I practice on them a lot. It seems when I'm at practice, I knock them down. Game time, it's a different story."

Buckner isn't alone in the free-throw shooting woes. As a team, Ole Miss is making just 60 percent of its free throws. The Rebels made 20 of 35 free throws in the win at Georgia, a 57.1 percent clip, including 14 of 27 in the second half.

"You have to become a psychologist, and you have to make sure you don't talk about it too much because, honestly, I believe it gets between the ears more than anything else," Kennedy said. "You work on technique, you try to reinforce the positive, you're getting quality reps, you change the way you practice in order to get pressure on them. We've tried it all. Save for a free-throw exorcism, I'm not sure what's left for us."

Getting Revenge:

Buckner said Ole Miss owes Florida, ranked No. 14 in the nation. The Rebels host the Gators tonight at 6 p.m. for a game to be broadcast by ESPN2.

Three of the past four games in the series have been decided by six points or less. The last Ole Miss win in the series was in 2008 in Oxford. Florida (15-4, 3-1 SEC) enters the game with an RPI of 36. Ole Miss has an RP of 34.

"We owe Florida, man. They got us my freshman year," in 2010, Buckner said. "We were close to getting to the tournament. It's going to be a key win this year. They're top-15. It's at our house. If we just play our heart out, best team wins."

"It's big because it's our next game," senior Terrance Henry, who was named SEC Player of the Week Monday after averaging 18.0 points and 6.5 rebounds in two games last week, said.

"I remember two years ago, we had a Thursday-Saturday stint like this, and we kind of choked it off. It's going to be big for us to get Florida at home."

A win Thursday night would certainly fall under the category of "quality" as Ole Miss attempts to pad its postseason resume. The Rebels have played the nation's No. 30 ranked schedule and has faced nine teams with RPIs of 100 or better. They are 4-5 in those games.

Murphy Holloway
US Presswire

"It is an important week," Kennedy said. "Our team made it important by the way they played in the last two games. First off, having a quality win against a very good Mississippi State team, and then building on that momentum and being able to break through on the road.

"So we've created some momentum, and now we need to take advantage of just that."

Holloway pushing on despite injured ankle:

Murphy Holloway isn't 100 percent healthy. He sprained his ankle against Middle Tennessee State in December. The injury still bothers him, and he can tell mostly in his explosiveness on the floor.

"I think that's something I'm going to battle the rest of the year," he said.

Holloway played 32 minutes against Georgia, scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds, all offensive. Ole Miss is 12-3 on the year when Holloway plays the whole game. He's third in the SEC and 28th in the NCAA in rebounding.

"I thought against Georgia he probably moved better than he has since the injury. I didn't see him nearly as tentative as he once was," Kennedy said. "He continues to work. He's in this training room two to three hours a day, continuing to try to get back to full speed because he knows how important he is, and it's important to him."

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