A few games just have to be considered must wins. For a lot of reasons, Ole Miss' 66-62 victory against South Carolina was in that category.

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The Rebels had fallen to Florida 64-60 two nights before and had one of those quick turnaround games that's been a topic this season. Then there would be a week off before the next game - at Alabama on Feb. 4.

Murphy Holloway, the player who has been a part of both the Ole Miss and South Carolina programs, summed it up best after the Rebels improved to 14-7 overall and 4-3 in Southeastern Conference play.

"We go into the off week on a win," said the junior forward with 14 points and 11 rebounds. "If we'd have lost, I wouldn't want an off week."

It wasn't easy getting a victory, however, even if it was against a South Carolina team that's struggling for wins, now 9-11 overall and 1-5 in league play.

The Rebels led most of the way but couldn't put much distance between themselves and their opponents. Earlyon they did, but the Gamecocks never went away.

Ole Miss held its largest lead of the game at 24-13 with 7:57 to go before halftime on a 3-point shot by Jelan Kendrick. The 6-foot-7 freshman from Atlanta, averaging 3.2 points per game, scored 11 points in this one and had some key moments that helped lift his team.

South Carolina closed the gap, and a Terrance Henry jumper inside the arc at the top of the key with eight seconds to go gave Ole Miss a 31-28 advantage at the break.

"I thought it was Jelan Kendrick's best minutes for us," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "Jarvis (Summers) picked up two (fouls) early. JK came in and settled us down."

Terrance Henry
Bruce Newman

Kendrick, who had seven of his 11 points in the first half, said he knew it was his time.

"I think I was put into position and it was either step up or go sit back down," said Kendrick, averaging 19 minutes in the nine games he'd played prior. "Coach Kennedy is a firm instructor and coach, and he just gave me a lot of confidence. He told me to go out there and don't worry about looking over here, don't worry about coming out. Just play to the caliber that you're capable of. I just tried my best to contribute to the team as best I could, just show up and get a W."

The Rebels eventually got that W, but it would be a fight to the finish.

Ole Miss led 60-53 with 5:55 to go on two free throws made by Henry. The Rebels then had chances over the next minute-plus to expand the lead but couldn't. USC's Malik Cooke made a 3-pointer to trim the Ole Miss advantage to 60-56 with 4:32 left to put his team on a 9-3 run.

Until Henry made the shot of the game, that is. It's 63-62 with the Rebels leading and obviously anybody's game. Ole Miss has possession of the basketball with 24 seconds to go and 13 seconds on the shot clock. Kennedy calls timeout.

As play resumes, freshman guard Jarvis Summers spots a wide-open Henry in the right corner, and Henry drills it for a four-point lead with 16 seconds to go.

"The key to (the play) was Jarvis made a great read," Kennedy said. "Obviously in plays you'd love to be able to know exactly where the defense is going to be. Our alignment was such that they were really pushing up, meaning all their men were high.

"They run that match-up zone, and we thought maybe they would trap us if we came off a ball screen," Kennedy continued. "Their players were really pushed up, and Jarvis made a great read. (Henry) was open. Knocked down a big shot."

Holloway, who was on the South Carolina team last season but sat out after transferring from Ole Miss, played his first two seasons of college basketball with the Rebels. He said the game was more about winning than any other aspect for him.

"It wasn't too emotional, but I'm glad we won," Holloway said, matter of factly. "We needed that one."

Nick Williams
Bruce Newman

Holloway said for some this off week will be about recovery and for others it will be about learning. For some, it's about both.

"I think it's both, but for me I am more in recovery mode as far as this ankle goes," said Holloway, still not completely recovered from an injury against Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 21. "For the younger guys, it's more about learning. This was a quick turnaround. We need this off week to regroup."

But had they lost Saturday night, that task would have been much tougher.

Henry was the Rebels' leading scorer with 15 points. Nick Williams had 12, in addition to Holloway's 14 and Kendrick's 11.

Ole Miss shot 49 percent for the game, including 39 percent from 3-point range. Kennedy was pleased with those marks.

"Wow, I wish that could be an every-game thing for us," he said of those percentages.

South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said it was more of the same for his team, which struggles to find wins.

"This was the second game in a row for us in league play where we put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win," he said. "They made the play and we didn't. It's pretty much as simple as that."

The Rebels won the battle of the boards 38-28, which didn't surprise Horn.

"We've seen the so-called best in this league," Horn said. "This front line is as athletic and big and maybe just as importantly is as experienced as any front line in our league. They're good."

Holloway said since it's near the halfway mark of the league season – seven games down, nine games left – that he still believes the goals this team wants to achieve can be reached.

"I feel pretty good, man, because I'll be thinking to myself, what will get us in (the NCAA Tournament)?" Holloway said. "I want to do that more for my boy Terrance Henry than anything because this is his last year. That's what we're trying to do, take it game by game and don't look ahead and try to rack the wins up."

And that, as much as anything else, was why the game against South Carolina was indeed a must win.

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