MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes said it was a simple matter of his players deciding to get the job done today in his team's 65-53 win over the University of Memphis Tigers.
"We refused to lose today," said the seventh-year Rebel head coach, whose team improved to 3-4 on the season. "When Memphis made a run at us (early in the second half), I challenged our guys again. I asked them if they wanted to play close again and feel they played well but lost. Or did they want to refuse to lose and win this game. They said they wanted to finish the job."
Finishing the job was something Ole Miss had not done the last couple of games. In close losses at Arkansas State (70-68) and at home against Florida State (69-64), the Rebels had their chances at the end but the offense all but shut down in the final minutes each time. That was not the case today against the Tigers.
Ole Miss kept playing and executing and expanded its 37-26 halftime lead to as much as 16 points (62-46) on a drive and baseline layup by freshman Brandon Patterson with 2:36 to go in the game. After the Tigers made it 62-48, Patterson scored on another layup to match the largest lead at 64-48 with 1:39 remaining.
For all practical purposes, the game was over. Many Tiger fans in the FedEx Forum crowd announced at 12,400 began heading for the exits at that point. The few hundred Rebel fans in attendance signaled one of the program's biggest wins in perhaps three seasons with a rousing Hotty Toddy.
"This was a great win for our program," Barnes said. "It's a win against a team with great talent on the road. To play the way we did here today and get a win on the road is very big for our team. Today we kinda just put it all together."
Memphis led only once in the contest - at 7-6 with six minutes gone. The Rebels pushed the lead out to 10 points at 23-13 with 7:12 to go before halftime on a 3-pointer by senior forward Kendrick Fox.The largest lead was 36-25 with a minute to go in the first half on a layup by senior guard Cavadas Nunnery.
After the Rebs expanded the lead to 13 points at 40-27, the Tigers made their only real run of the contest. A 3-pointer by senior guard Anthony Rice cut the Ole Miss lead to 42-36 with 15:05 left in the game. But Abernethy nailed a 12-foot jump shot from just left of the lane and was fouled. He sank the free throw and it was 45-36 Rebels with 14:30 left. The Tigers got to within seven points on a couple of occasions, but for the most part down the stretch the Ole Miss lead was double digits.
"Mississippi really played a good team game. You have to give Rod (Barnes) credit," said fifth-year Memphis head coach John Calipari. "They controlled the tempo. They competed at a way higher level than my team. Mississippi came in here to win."
Barnes started Nunnery, who had 10 points and five assists in 30 minues of action, at point guard for the first time in his career today in place of usual starting point guard, sophomore Todd Abernethy.
"It was exciting to start for the first time in my career," said Nunnery, still a walkon in his fourth year with the program. "But it wasn't about me feeling good or starting. It was about playing well and winning as a team. I just wanted to get the job done for the team."
"I thought Cavadas played great," Barnes said. "He's been hurt (knee injury in practice before the season started a month ago). We started him today because we felt like we needed to start things with our defense. He's a little better defensive player than Todd. Today was the day I felt we needed to go that route, and it worked."
Senior center Tommie Eddie said it all started in workouts during this past week, which was final exam week at Ole Miss.
"Today was all about how we practiced," said Eddie, who had 18 points to lead the Rebels on 8-16 from the floor and 2-2 from the free throw line with nine rebounds, four assists and a block. "It showed out there today. We came out mentally and physically ready to play. We had to play more physical. Coach (Barnes) told us we had to practice more physical. We had rough practices, throwing elbows, being aggressive. It paid off today."
"We've felt all year we could go to Tommie, but now he is even more effective," Barnes said. "He's not only a great scorer but also a great passer. And he's a good decision maker."
Junior forwward Londrick Nolen was making his major college debut in his hometown. The Raleigh-Egypt High and Southwest Tennessee CC product had 12 points and two blocks.
"It was good to be back home, and to get a win is great," Nolen said. "To beat a team that was ranked to begin the season on their home court, this win will pick us up a lot."
Ole Miss had five players in double figures. In addition to Eddie, Nolen, and Nunnery, senior forward Kendrick Fox had 10 and Patterson also had 10.
Freshman guard Darius Washington had 20 to lead the Tigers.
The Rebels shot 53 percent (26-49) from the floor and outrebounded the Tigers 31-28.
Ole Miss returns to action Monday at 7 p.m. in C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum hosting Nicholls State, the first of three straight games in Oxford. Troy is in town Wednesday night at 7 and Louisiana-Monroe next Saturday at 2 p.m.
Rod: 'We refused to lose' as Rebs beat Memphis
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