Rebs look for two in a row tonight

Ole Miss plays three games at home this week and another on Tuesday, Dec. 21 in Tupelo

Ole Miss didn't have long to enjoy Saturday's big 65-53 win at Memphis. That's because a stretch of four games in nine days begins today at 7 p.m. in Oxford as Nicholls State comes to town.

The Rebels improved to 3-4 on the young season in halting Memphis' 24-game home winning streak, the third longest in the nation at the time.

The energy and confidence the Rebels displayed on the homecourt of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies was impressive. Their defensive effort and hustle was amazing – typical Rod Barnes basketball, but this time maybe even more intense than in the recent past. No doubt the best defensive performance by the Rebels this season.

It's an Ole Miss team that is improving and a program that was looking for a win to get it headed in an even more positive direction.

The basic feeling from those in the Memphis camp was that if the Tigers competed as hard as the Rebels, they'd have a much better record than their current 5-4 mark.

Tiger fifth-year head coach John Calipari is now 2-3 against Ole Miss.

Rod compared the win to the Rebels' Jan. 24, 1996, win over ranked Auburn 82-69 in Oxford. That's the game almost everyone points to that jump-started the Rebels' success in the late ‘90s and into the new century – the one when four Rebels were suspended, and young players like Keith Carter, Michael White, and Jason Smith started to make their mark.

It remains to be seen if Saturday's win over Memphis will do the same for the Rebel program that game did. But it was indeed a good prelude toward what should be Rebel victories over these next four games.

Unless they have a letdown and one of these four slip up and sneak out with a victory, that is. After tonight's game it's Troy here on Wednesday at 7 p.m., Louisiana-Monroe at 2 p.m. Saturday here, and Tennessee-Martin at 8 p.m. Tues., Dec. 21, at the BancorpSouth Center in downtown Tupelo.

I agree with Rod's comparison that Saturday's win against Memphis could have the residual effect that the Auburn game did back in 1996. The only big difference I see is that while the game back then was played with mostly new players, the win at FedEx Forum was keyed by mainly the veterans.

Rod came back from the season-opening tournament in Milwaukee all but ready to go with nearly a wholesale youth movement. Saturday showed he still hasn't done that – and now he may not if the win in Memphis is any indication.

He started seniors Tommie Eddie, Justin Johnson, Cavadas Nunnery, Kendrick Fox, and junior Londrick Nolen. Those five got the bulk of playing time along with freshman Brandon Patterson's 24 minutes and sophomore Todd Abernethy's 15.

Rod said he started Nunnery in place of Abernethy at the point guard to give the Rebels a jump-start on defense. Nunnery was outstanding – 30 minutes, 10 points (3-4 from the field, 4-6 from the free throw line), five assists, one steal, three turnovers, five rebounds).

"I loved the challenge," said Nunnery after the first start of his career. "I just went out there and had fun."

"I thought he played great," Barnes said of Nunnery. "He was hurt early in the season (knee sprain). We probably would have played him more earlier. He's a good defensive player, and we want to start on defense. I just had a feeling that was the way to go and it worked out for us."

The effectiveness of Eddie inside was another key factor in Saturday's win. Last year there was no way the then-overweight, out of shape senior center could have played 39 of a game's 40 minutes. Saturday not only did he do that, but he was 8-16 from the floor, 2-2 from the free throw line, had nine rebounds, four assists, a block, and a steal with 18 points.

Impressive numbers for a player who is a real key to the rest of the season for the Rebels.

After the season's first three games in Milwaukee, it was apparent Eddie had a long way to go. Saturday was an indication that he's getting there.

"We felt like at the start of the season we could go to Tommie and he would give us something," Barnes said, mentioning the struggles of Eddie earlier in the season. "Not just in scoring, because he's a great passer and he showed that today. He's a good decision-maker, and what has happened is that he has become more effective in a lot of ways. That's helped our team."

Eddie said scoring is only part of his role, and that in the second half against Memphis the Tigers made some adjustments to stop him offensively. He had 12 of his 18 in the first half.

"I could feel the double team," he said of passing the ball more in the second half rather than shooting it. "I'm a good passer, so I just waited for their cut and dropped it off."

Tonight's foe Nicholls State is a team and program with a bit of uncertainty surrounding it the past two months. In early October, head coach Ricky Blanton resigned and the team is now being led by former assistant J.P. Piper.

The Colonels have struggled with just a win over Loyola of New Orleans – their only home game to date - to their credit.

They won't be intimidated coming to Oxford and playing in an SEC arena, however. They have lost at Mississippi State, at Auburn, and at Michigan State.

Last Saturday they fell to 1-4 on the season with a loss at David Lipscomb University in Nashville 83-74.

Rod and the Rebels want to keep playing well, starting with tonight's encounter against the visitors from south Louisiana. They will continue to try to improve as December heads toward SEC play in January.

"We've learned a lot in our first seven games," Rod said. "We felt like and we hoped that we could have won maybe five games to this point. But we also felt like we could struggle some early. We've played some good teams and that has made us better. It will help us be at home now for several games.

"The last three games we've played pretty well," he said Saturday afternoon outside the Rebels' locker room in the FedEx Forum of close losses at Arkansas State and to Florida State in Oxford in addition to the win at Memphis. "This one was obviously better because we won."

Tonight at home they'll try to make it two in a row.

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