The Rebels and Air Force will meet at 5:30 p.m. (CST) Monday in the second round. The Falcons defeated the Jacksonville State Gamecocks 59-42 in the second of today's four games.
Tonight it's the Penn State Nittany Lions vs. the Illinois State Redbirds, followed by the host Marquette Golden Eagles vs. the Western Carolina Catamounts in the nightcap.
"This was a good game for us," said Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes. "Give South Carolina State credit. We kept pressuring them and pressuring them and at some point we finally got a break and our kids started to play well."
The Rebels, who trailed 32-27 at halftime, were down 43-39 with just under 11 minutes to go in the contest, and the game appeared to still be up for grabs. But then came "the stretch" as the Rebs took over the game from that point on.
The Bulldogs made six turnovers over the next five minutes as Ole Miss moved to a 53-43 lead with 5:54 remaining.
Some new faces and some veteran players had a hand in the run. Freshman guard Brandon Patterson, who scored nine points in 19 minutes, nailed a 3-pointer to put the Rebels up 44-43 with 8:51 to go.
Senior guard Justin Johnson, who had 15 points in the contest on 6-of-13 shooting including 3-of-8 from 3-point range, stole the basketball and drove downcourt for a layup to make it 46-43 with 8:40 left.
The Bulldogs were on their heels a bit as the Rebels' relentless pressure and defensive effort began to take its toll.
Following another SCSU turnover, Johnson missed a trey. But junior Londrick Nolen, who had nine points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes of play in his first game as a Rebel, slammed it home with authority for a 48-43 lead. When SCSU's star player, Thurman Zimmerman, missed, it was Johnson who came down and hit an open trey to put UM up 51-43 with 7:05 left.
After another Bulldog turnover, Todd Abernethy, who led Rebel scorers with 18 points going 7-of-11 from the floor, drove the lane and laid it in for 53-43 Rebel advantage with 5:54 left. South Carolina State finally ended the drought with a 3-point basket by Shawn Wiggins with 5:24 to go.
But the Rebels kept the heat on as Patterson, 3-of-6 from 3-point range, came right down and nailed another 3-pointer to push the lead back out to 10 at 56-46 with 4:58 to go. The Bulldogs got no closer than eight points the rest of the way. A layup with 18 seconds left by senior Ed Glass gave Ole Miss its largest lead of the game at 64-50.
"We lost today to a very good team," said South Carolina State head coach Ben Betts, whose team falls to 0-1 this season and will face Jacksonville State at noon Monday. "I thought we played well for 30 minutes of the game or so. But down the stretch they created some turnovers that caused us some problems. We didn't get the shot then that we were looking to get on the offensive end. That really hurt us down the stretch."
Betts said the Rebels' 14-0 run was when things obviously got away from his team.
"Turnovers, shot selection, some things happened during that stretch that really hurt us," Betts said. "We had some good looks at the basket, but they also hurt us on some drives. Our perimeter people didn't guard well during that stretch. We just had some breakdowns that cost us. We needed to play for 40 minutes and didn't. You have to stay with a gameplan for 40 minutes. The last 10 minutes we didn't do that for the most part."
The first 30 minutes of the contest were tight. Ole Miss, which did not play an exhibition contest before this tournament, actually trailed much of the early part of the game before taking a 25-23 lead on a 3-point basket from the corner by Abernethy with 3:33 to go before the break.
But the Bulldogs outscored the Rebels 9-2 from that point on before intermission to regain some momentum at halftime.
SCSU kept the lead for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Rebels hung around. When the door opened a bit, Ole Miss burst through.
"We came into the tournament to find out about our team since we hadn't played any exhibitions and had only scrimmaged against ourselves," Barnes said. "Basicaly I thought we showed some character when things weren't going well. Our program has been about playing defense and wearing people down. And hopefully late in a game we can get a break or make a break and get things going our way. That happened today and we continued to play well until the end. We felt they were becoming fatigued and we felt if we continued to push at them and push at them, that we'd be OK."
Barnes used 12 players in the game and was able to see several combinations that he wanted. Newcomers Nolen, Patterson, Jeremy Parnell (three points, 25 minutes) were all prominent in today's action. Brian Smith logged three minutes but no points with one rebound.
Rod started senior Kendrick Fox, Abernethy, Nolen, Johnson, and senior Tommie Eddie, who surprisingly had no points and only three rebounds in 12 minutes.
"I was impressed with our new guys," Rod said. "They brought a lot of confidence into the game. They didn't seem to be nervous. They appeared to be excited and that was great for us. Even guys who were here last year who didn't play much, like Ed Glass, they really contributed today. This was a team win and that was good start for us."
The big-bodied, physical Zimmerman led the Bulldogs with 20 points, followed by 16 for Wiggins.
Ole Miss shot 43 percent (23-53) from the floor and 36 percent (8-22) from 3-point range. The Rebs were 10-of-12 (83 percent) from the free throw line.
SC State shot 45 percent (18-40) from the field and was 2-6 (33 percent) from 3-point range. The Bulldogs were 14-of-18 (78 percent) from the line.
Ole Miss had 12 turnovers to State's 19. The Rebs had the better of it on the boards with a 29 to 26 rebounding edge - 10-8 on the offensive end and 19-18 on the defensive end. The Rebs dished out 12 assists, led by Abernethy's four, to nine for SCSU.
For full stats and the box score, go to olemisssports.com.
Rebs beat SC State 64-52
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