Rebs open SEC play with win at Alabama

Ole Miss was impressive down the stretch and got a big win on the SEC road Saturday evening.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - It was a tale of two halves for both Ole Miss and Alabama - the Crimson Tide winning the first and the Rebels the second.

When all was said and done, Ole Miss had gotten off to a 1-0 start in Southeastern Conference play with a 71-61 win on the road. The Rebels now return home for back to back games against South Carolina and Mississippi State.

"Our team did a wonderful job of being focused and prepared," said Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes, who got an early birthday present - he turns 40 on Sunday. "Our guys were physical today. It was our best game of the season."

"I first want to congratulate Ole Miss," said Crimson Tide head coach Mark Gottfried. "Rod had them ready and they got a big win on the road. At the start of the second half, they made every key shot. They did a very nice job."

Barnes said the Rebels, who trailed 30-23 at halftime, were a confident bunch in the locker room at intermission.

"Sometimes I have to go in and get them to still believe they can win a game in that situation," he said after picking up his first win in Tuscaloosa as UM head coach. "But today I could sense it, I could hear them saying to each other that they knew they could still win this game."

But according to point guard Todd Abernethy, the Rebels also talked at halftime about getting the ball inside more to their big men, especially Dwayne Curtis.

"Yes we talked about it," he said. "We talked about driving to create. We attacked a lot more. Even if I take it in and miss a layup, then it gives an opportunity for a guy to get a rebound and put it back in. In the second half we attacked them more. We punished them down low. They couldn't stop DC (Dwayne Curtis). We got some momentum and pushed it on from there."

Offensively neither team got much done in the first half as the low score indicated. Alabama went up 10 points at 24-14 on a Brandon Hollinger 3-point basket with just over three minutes to go before halftime. But the Rebels hung around and stayed within striking distance to only trail by seven at the break.

In the second half, the Rebels outscored the Tide 17-4 in the first seven minutes to take a 40-34 lead and clearly set the tone for the rest of the game, pounding the ball inside to Curtis and getting some important outside buckets from Abernethy and Bam Doyne. Layups and putbacks by Londrick Nolen also were key.

But could they hold it? Could the momentum continue?

The Rebels lost one in similar fashion at Illinois-Chicago earlier, and they mentioned that in the postgame. They were pleased with how they pushed through to win this one.

"We just kept telling each other to keep it up, just kept encouraging each other," said Curtis, who had 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead his team. "We had the confidence to win this game."

The Rebs flirted with a double-digit lead time and time again, but they didn't get it until only 23 seconds remained when Doyne made two free throws to make it 69-59 and seal the home team's fate.

Both Alabama and Ole Miss players agreed that the Tide losing senior forward Chuck Davis, the team's leading scorer at 17.8 points per game, seven minutes into this one to a probable torn ACL changed things. None would say if it was indeed the difference in the outcome, however.

"Chuck Davis being out hurt them a lot," Abernethy said. "He scores like 18 points a game. Obviously when something like that happens the momentum changes. They were probably deflated. But we just worried about our team and continued to play our game."

In addition to Curtis' 21 points, Nolen had 15 for the Rebs, while Abernethy and Doyne had 11 each.

For Bama, Jermareo Davidson had 25, Hollinger 13, and Richard Hendrix 12.

The Rebels hit some important free throws down the stretch to win it. For the game they were an impressive 21-for-26 for 81 percent.

Ole Miss last won in Tuscaloosa during the 1997-98 season in Rob Evans' last season as UM head coach, a 74-63 victory which was televised nationally by CBS during the Rebels' second of two runs to an SEC West title.

Next up, the Rebels and the Gamecocks tip off at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Oxford.

Look for more on the Rebel victory in Tuscaloosa on the Spirit site Sunday afternoon.

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