Answering The Call

Anthony Perez had to wait his turn at Ole Miss this season, to say the least. But now he’s getting an opportunity to play and making the most of it.

The 6-foot-9, 205-pound junior understands where he has been and where he is now as far as basketball is concerned.

“I didn’t play much at the beginning of the year,” Perez said. “I couldn’t make shots, and I was playing really bad. But I always stayed ready. Coach (Andy Kennedy) always told me to stay ready. And that’s what I did.”

Then things changed for the better.

“I started making some shots and doing some little things in the games,” he said. “Making open shots, getting some rebounds, passing the ball and getting some assists. Being a junior I just wanted to play and do whatever I can to help the team win.”

Perez said his confidence was down early in the season.

“Yeah, at the beginning of the year when I wasn’t playing. When Coach put me in a game, I was kind of scared to do something bad that he would take me out. That was in my mind every time I was playing.”

The Rebels need for Perez to continue to play as he has lately, because two teams with hopes of an eventual NCAA postseason tournament bid collide at Tad Smith Coliseum tonight.

Ole Miss hosts Texas A&M, and both teams appear to be playing their best basketball currently.

The Rebels are coming off an impressive 67-47 road victory at Missouri. It was their third win in a row, along with defeating Florida and Mississippi State at home. Ole Miss is 14-7 overall and 5-3 in Southeastern Conference action.

The Aggies, meanwhile, have won six consecutive games and sport a somewhat surprising 15-5 overall mark and 6-2 league record.

Perez said he felt like he would play better earlier this season, but it didn’t happen for him.

“Last year I would play good some games and then I thought this year would be better,” he said. “I’ve just kept moving forward and staying positive and doing whatever I’ve got to do in a game.”

Perez and the Rebels could make up some more ground toward a second NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons with a win tonight. Ole Miss ranks No. 47 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index rankings released by the NCAA. The Rebels are 2-2 against the RPI top 35, including wins over No. 24 Arkansas and No. 34 Cincinnati. Texas A&M is ranked No. 32 coming into tonight’s game.

“Texas A&M is a really good team,” Perez said. “It will be a really good win if we can beat them. I feel we have been playing really good as a team these last four games. I hope we keep going and playing together and doing whatever it takes to win these games.”

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said the Aggies appear to be at the top of their game.

“They are playing as well as anybody in our league, and I mean that,” Kennedy said. “They’ve got a number of weapons. They’re playing at a really, really high level. They’re playing well defensively and can hurt you with a number of things offensively. They’re going to pose a number of challenges.”

Former Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury is an assistant coach on the Texas A&M staff of head coach Billy Kennedy.

Junior transfers Danuel House and Jalen Jones both lead the Aggies in scoring at 14.2 points per game each, while Jones is pulling down a team-best 6.0 rebounds a game. Texas A&M ranks last in the SEC in free throw percentage in conference play at .644.

Ole Miss’ Coach Kennedy likes the way his team is performing the last few outings and hopes it will continue.

“We are playing better,” he said. “I think our team continues to evolve, and that’s what you want as you enter the month of February.”

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