Ole Miss didn't necessarily need a little magic to pull out its 68-62 victory against Southeastern Louisiana. The Rebels just needed to keep on playing.
Trailing 40-31 at halftime and down by as much as 12 points in the first half, the Rebels kept playing - tough on defense and finally getting some key baskets as the game moved on. It also didn't hurt that the visiting Lions cooled off from 58 percent shooting (14-24) in the first half to 32 percent (7-22) in the second half.
In that second half, it was a reversal of roles as in the opening stanza Ole Miss shot 39 percent (14-36) and in the second half shot 54 percent (13-24).
Down the stretch, the Rebels needed some positive things to happen. As has been the case in a few games so far this season, perhaps an unexpected player would step up again to help the cause. It happened, and this time it was sophomore guard Brian Smith.
The Lexington, Ky., native's big 3-point basket with 1:58 left gave Ole Miss a 62-58 lead and ignited the crowd of 1,238. It was far from an ordinary trey, however, as the shot clock wound down, and Smith all but heaved it goalward. Luckily for the Rebels, the result was nothing but net.
"I heard the crowd yelling to shoot it and my teammates too," said Smith, who ended the contest with eight points in 16 minutes, going 3-4 including 2-2 from 3-point land. "So I just tried to square up and shoot it. Fortunately I made it."
"I'm extremely pleased with the success he's been having," said Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes of Brian Smith, whose team improved to 8-3 on the season and won't play again until hosting Alcorn State on Dec. 30. "What Brian has done has been very positive for our team. But it's always been that way with Brian. He just works hard every day and tries to take advantage when given an opportunity."
Smith also had eight points in the Rebels' 85-78 win over Arkansas State Monday night. Both these last two games have been career scoring nights for Smith as a Rebel.
This game basically came down to gut-check time for the Rebels with the contest being their fifth game in nine days. The Rebels were up to the challenge.
"I knew we were not out of it at halftime," said sophomore center Dwayne Curtis, who led Ole Miss with 23 points and nine rebounds. "We knew it was one play at a time to get back in it, especially defensively."
Barnes said even though the Rebels were down nine points at intermission, he did not see panic from his players in the locker room.
"I felt a real sense that they knew they could still win the game," Barnes said. "So I really kept kinda calm for us being down that much at halftime. I just talked to them about winning and they responded."
With the Rebels leading 63-59 and 1:22 left, it was Brian Smith again that stepped up. A good defensive effort near midcourt on Lions' guard Chris Lee resulted in a five-second call, and the Rebels were awarded the basketball. Rebel junior Bam Doyne's layup with 53 seconds to go gave Ole Miss a 65-59 lead, and it appeared this one was the Rebels to lose at that point. They didn't.
"Southeastern Louisiana is a good, well-coached team," Barnes said of the Lions, who fell to 5-5 but have on the winning side of their ledger a victory at Mississippi State this season. "I was happy to see our kids fight and defend our home court again tonight."
Free throw shooting is still hurting the Rebels a bit. In this game they were 11-20 at the free throw line. SELA was 15-19.
Ricky Woods' 14 points led four Lions in double figures.
On another important topic, Barnes said that Rebel senior Londrick Nolen, dressed in street clothes and sitting on the Rebel bench for this game, is still a part of the team and would practice with his teammates beginning Monday, Dec. 26, when the team gets back together again after a Chrismas break. Barnes would not say if Nolen will play in the Rebels-Braves game the night before New Year's Eve at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum.
Rebs make comeback to beat Lions 68-62
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