A long and grueling pre-conference schedule ended on a winning note for the Ole Miss Rebels. But they don't head into league play with a ton of momentum.
The Rebs held off Western Carolina 65-59 Tuesday night in Oxford to end the pre-conference portion of their schedule at 10-3. They play at Alabama Saturday at 5 p.m. in a game televised on Fox Sports Net.
After falling behind 10-2 early in their latest outing, the Rebels - especially Todd Abernethy and Dwayne Curtis - found their shot and led 38-29 at intermission. But the visiting Catamounts wouldn't go away in the second half, even after falling behind by as much as 12 points midway through the second period.
Trailing 53-41 with 10:14 to go in the contest, the Catamounts went on a 10-0 run in roughly the next six minutes, ending with a Clarence Sanders layup at the 4:22 mark to give the Rebs a 55-51 advantage.
Sanders continued to help the Rebels pull away with a steal and drive to the basket for a dunk with 3:04 left and a 61-53 UM lead. But WCU hadn't come from North Carolina to North Mississippi to give up at that point. When Trey Hopkins laid it in with 26 ticks left, the Catamounts trailed only 62-59.
Sanders was fouled with 23 seconds left and sank two free throws to make it 64-59 Rebs. After Antonio Russell missed a 3-pointer for WCU, Sanders was fouled by Corey Muirhead with 14 seconds to go. A struggle ensued after the play, and some extra activity from players on both teams then led to two technicals called on each team, which offset each other by rule.
Sanders made the first free throw from the foul called on Muirhead, missed the second, but Jermey Parnell got the rebound for Ole Miss and was fouled. The sophomore forward/center then missed two free throws with 13 seconds to go (the Rebels were a decent 14-19 from the free throw line in the game), and Western was not able to put the ball in the basket in the game's waning seconds.
"We improved in some areas tonight, but we're still not where we need to be yet," said Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes. "We got more touches for Dwayne Curtis, we got some good looks at the basket, but we've still got to shoot the basketball better and limit our turnovers."
The Rebels shot 59 percent in the first half and 47 percent for the game. They committed 17 turnovers.
WCU shot it well also with a 52 percent effort in the first half and 47 percent for the game.
"I thought the tempo was at their pace," Barnes said of WCU, which fell to 7-9 on the season. "They did a good job of controlling that."
Curtis, who had 11 points in the first half, finished with 21 for the game. Abernethy with 14 for the game, 12 of them in the first half, had stepped up big in that opening half, including 3-4 from 3-point range to help spark the Rebel offense and jump start the first-half comeback. Sanders had 15 points, 10 of them in the second half.
Russell had 17 and David Berghoefer 16 for the Cats.
Barnes said getting to 10-3 is a good accomplishment for his team, but he also noted they will have to step up and play better if they are to have a chance to win their SEC opener in Tuscaloosa.
"I told our guys they did what they needed to do to get to this point, and that's something to be happy about," he said. "But we have to continue to try to get better."
Rebs hold on for win over WCU
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