Rod Barnes wasn't alone in wondering how his Ole Miss team would respond after a big road win at Alabama. Wednesday night against South Carolina in Oxford, the eighth-year Rebel head coach found out. Laden with youth and inexperience, the Rebels responded with a hard-fought 68-63 victory that ended in a chaotic final four minutes of action.
Up 63-52 with 3:35 left, the game seemed well in hand. But the Gamecocks reeled off nine straight points - mostly on driving layups and free throws - to pull to within 63-61.
After forcing an Ole Miss turnover on the Rebels' next possession (a five-second call on an inbounds play), South Carolina had a chance to take the lead. But the Rebel defense immediately came through with a five-second violation of its own on the Gamecocks' ensuing inbounds pass, and Ole Miss upped its lead to 65-61 on Londrick Nolen's two free throws.
South Carolina had one final chance to tie the game and force it into overtime, but Dwayne Day's three-pointer from the far corner with 12 seconds left hit all sides of the rim before finally falling out. The Rebels hung on for the victory.
Now 2-0 on the Southeastern Conference season and 12-3 overall, the Rebels host Mississippi State at noon Saturday.
"Our kids did a good job tonight," said Barnes, whose team was tied 31-31 at halftime with the visiting Gamecocks. "South Carolina is a very good team. I thought we did a great job of defending. They're a veteran team and we knew they were not going to go away. We knew they would make some runs at us."
The teams traded buckets to start the game as the lead changed hands seven times in the early going. With the score tied 16-16, Ole Miss used an 8-0 run – capped by Nolen's two-handed dunk off a South Carolina steal – to separate themselves midway through the first half.
But the Gamecocks didn't stop fighting.
Trailing 31-24 with just over two minutes remaining before halftime, South Carolina rallied furiously. Renaldo Balkman and Antoine Tisby each had a putback layup to cut the lead to 31-28, and senior Tarence Kinsey's 25-foot three-pointer with six seconds left in the first half tied the score at 31-31 during intermission.
The Rebels inched out to a 43-34 lead over the Gamecocks early in the second half by pounding the ball down low to Curtis.
The Rebels grew their lead to as many as 12 points at 57-45 before South Carolina finally regrouped over the game's final four minutes.
When big men Dwayne Curtis and Jermey Parnell each had four fouls halfway through the second half with the Rebels leading 49-40, Barnes called on little-used center Marquis Young who came through with some key rebounds in five minutes of action. South Carolina was not able to make up any ground while Young was on the court.
"We put him in mainly because I didn't know how long the game was going to last," Barnes said. "Both of our guys with experience, Jermey Parnell and Dwayne Curtis, had four fouls. I told the big fellow (Young), 'Your up; here is your chance.' He did not disappoint."
Doyne paced the Rebels with 23 points. He also had nine rebounds and five assists.
"I just played my game," said Doyne, who played 35 minutes against USC and 40 minutes in the Rebels' win at Alabama. "I just went out and did what I do. Hopefully I can keep it up."
USC head coach Dave Odom, whose team fell to 9-6 overall and 0-2 in SEC play, said he felt they had a shot down the stretch.
"Congratulations to Ole Miss," Odom said. "Rod and his staff game-planned well and his kids fought hard. We didn't shoot the basketball particularly well, but we kept the turnovers low and played hard. I thought we had a good chance to win it there at the end."
Odom said Doyne was a bit of a surprise for him and his staff.
"We never could get a handle on Bam Doyne," he said. "He was maybe quicker and a better shooter than we anticipated."
The Rebels shot 50 percent (22-44) for the game, 27 percent from 3-point range (4-15), and 77 percent from the free throw line (20-26).
USC shot 35 percent (19-55), 11 percent (2-19) from 3-point land, and 23-29 (79 percent) from the free throw line.
On second-chance points, South Carolina outscored Ole Miss 25-11.
USC had 13 turnovers against the Rebs' 16.
The Gamecocks were led in scoring by Kinsey's 18 points and 10 rebounds. Renaldo Balkman and Day each had 12 points.
Barnes said he is looking forward to Saturday when his team plays the arch-rival.
"It's another big game for us," he said. "To be 2-0 is a big start for us. Hopefully we can build on this."
Rebs get past USC 68-63
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