COLUMN: Finding A Way

AUBURN, Ala. - If the path to the NCAA tournament is paved in road wins, Ole Miss can start lacing up its dancing shoes.

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The Rebels picked up their seventh road win of the year at Auburn Saturday afternoon, downing the Tigers by an 86-79 score. They’ve won five games in a row and six straight over Auburn.

“We have a lot of guys that have been playing for years, and this is the routine,” junior guard Anthony Perez, who totaled a season-high 10 points as well as five rebounds in the win, said. “It’s going to be loud. There’s going to be people, and they’re going to try to get on our minds. But we’ve been there before, and that makes it not that hard for us.”

Ole Miss is 16-7 overall and 7-3 Southeastern Conference play. The Rebels have picked up three league road wins in five attempts, with one of its losses a three-point overtime decision at No. 1 Kentucky in January.

“I feel like we feed off the environments, everybody being against us,” said senior guard Ladarius White, the team’s leading scorer with 20 points. “We just want to prove them wrong. It was loud. It was a tough win – a good win.”

Ole Miss entered play in the mid-40s in the most-recent RPI rankings released by the NCAA. Prior to the game, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Rebels firmly in the tournament as a No. 10 seed playing No. 7 seed Indiana in Pittsburgh.

Now the Rebels have added another win on a postseason resume only growing stronger by the week. A team consisting of five seniors and five juniors has learned to play together, and it’s showing, especially on the road.

“I have a veteran team,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Snoop has been in these battles before, as has Jarvis (Summers) and as has Terrence Smith. You would hope they would play experienced and not be rattled.

“Guys believe they can win. They actually feed off the energy, believe it or not, in a positive way. It forces us to communicate. I thought we were really locked in, particularly in the second half.”

Ole Miss built lead after lead in the second half. Auburn responded seemingly each time, too, but the Rebels didn’t fold. A deafening Auburn Arena crowd of 9,121 fans attempted to make life difficult on them, with little luck. Led by their veterans, they made plays when they had to, the mark of a team with lofty goals and the ability to attain them.

Take White, for example. Auburn pulled to within two, 64-62, with 5:56 left in the game. The Tigers buckled down defensively, forcing a tough shot, their fans doing everything in their power to help their team overcome.

White proceeded to sink a 3 over two defenders. Silencer.

“It’s experience. Been there, done that,” Kennedy said. “They understand we’re entering the second half of league play. We go 6-3 in the first half, we’re 1-0 in the second half. We know we have to continue to stack wins in order to reach our goals.”

One of which is the NCAA tournament. And Ole Miss is proving it belongs.

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