Todd Abernethy looked up in the stands where his parents were sitting, specifically at his dad, Tom, just as the videoboard high above Tad Smith Coliseum was showing a clip from the movie "Hoosiers."
If you've seen that classic film, you know that it's the part of the movie when the Hickory High team is preparing to go out on the court to win yet another game and the players and coaches begin clapping in rhythm. Coach Norman Dale (played by Gene Hackman) and his team move in a matter of seconds from silence into an emotional frenzy as they head out the locker room door.
Todd wasn't sure his dad made eye contact with him at that moment late in Ole Miss' 75-65 Southeastern Conference victory over Mississippi State Saturday afternoon in Oxford.
"I saw him clapping, but I think he was also talking to some people around him, too," Todd said.
Didn't matter. For Todd – and for Tom and Todd's mom, Susie – it was a moment they've been waiting for since becoming a part of Mississippi - from Indiana, the Hoosier state.
Tom was a starting forward on real-life Hoosier teams at Indiana University, which lost only one game in two years and in 1975-76 was the last perfect team to win the NCAA Tournament. Todd's dad also had a hand in making the movie, which appeared in theaters across the country 20 years ago.
"He did some things to help out with it, and he got in the credits at the end," Todd said today after scoring a career-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range, with five assists and 2-of-2 on free throws.
It was a special moment for the Abernethys when that clip was shown, but Todd didn't allow himself to smile during this one until 1:10 remained in the game and he was dribbling the ball upcourt with the Rebels leading 70-60. And while he was overjoyed with an important victory close at-hand, he threw just one more shot up for good measure, his final 3-pointer true as the shot-clock wound down and the crowd of 8,581 mostly Ole Miss fans let out one last rather loud Rebel yell with a 73-60 lead and just 39 seconds to go.
Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes said it has been experience and maturity that have been the keys for his junior point guard.
"Todd has come so far in the past couple of years," said Barnes, whose Rebels moved to an impressive 13-3 on the season and 3-0 in the SEC. "This is such a tough league. We stuck a freshman out there two years ago and said ‘help us.' That's a tough thing. Now he is able to help us even more because he has that experience. He is a difference-maker now.
"I know his first year and even last year he would come over to the bench with that fog look in his eyes and on his face," Barnes continued. "Now I don't see that. I see confidence. I hear confidence. He comes over there and tells me what he thinks we should do or what he sees. That's the difference in him now and back then."
Todd's roommate since they both arrived in the summer of 2003 and his close friend, junior Bam Doyne, said Todd has indeed stepped up his game this season.
"He's more of a patient person, both on offense and defense," said Doyne, himself improved this season by leaps and bounds over his first two years here. "He sees the floor a lot better. Overall his vision is great. He knows the offense better. He plays defense better. He's better than he's ever been."
Todd said Bam had been picking at him about when he was going to score 20 points in a game.
"Bam's been on me about it. I finally made the 20-point club today," said Todd, smiling once again, in the postgame press conference.
"He nailed it today," Bam said. "He was in that zone out there."
Todd admits it has been a long and often painful journey to get to this point in his career. He had shoulder surgery after his freshmen year, and during his sophomore season he mostly came into games off the bench behind Cavadas Nunnery, who watched today's victory from the stands.
"It's learning and having some experience and having some guts, really, to go in there and mix it up and drive and shoot," Todd said. "You might get it blocked. You might get it stripped. Any number of bad things can happen. But if you don't go in and give it a try, you'll never know if you can do it or not.
"You'll always miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take," said a confident Todd Abernethy, knowing these Rebels have already surprised some people and now have an opportunity to make more noise as the season continues. "I'm just so much more comfortable now, so much more sure of my abilities and my game. I'm just trying to control the game."
That was never more apparent than in today's big win against the Bulldogs, who fell to 11-5 and 1-2.
"We've had a big road win (at Alabama). We've won two games at home now," Todd said. "We're ready to go back on the road and win again. We want to win the SEC West. That's a goal. Being 3-0 is nice, but we're not satisfied at all. We believe we're just getting started."
His roommate agreed.
"It's still early, and there are a lot of games left to play," Bam said. "But it is great to be 3-0."
The road to all their goals, including a potential SEC West title they are obviously already willing to talk about, continues one week from today when the Rebels play at Georgia.
Ole Miss sophomore center Dwayne Curtis never complained about his unfortunate situation since Wednesday night. Few people except those within the program actually knew.
Curtis' 22-year-old brother, Jarrod, was in an auto wreck in Illinois Wednesday night about the time the Rebels were beating South Carolina in Oxford. Dwayne got up and drove to Champaign Thursday morning to see him, got up Friday morning and drove back to Oxford, and made it to his team's 4 p.m. practice.
Jarrod is in a coma, and that should explain the severity of the situation. Barnes said he was at a loss for words to explain just how proud he is of Curtis and the commitment he made to Ole Miss the past three days.
"Dwayne is a special person," Barnes said. "This young man sacrificed so much the past three days. To make that trip to be with his brother and his family. Then to make sure he got back for practice, because he knew how important this game was for Ole Miss. Then he gave us the best he could possibly give us today, and he never once complained.
"To drive that far and to see your brother in a coma, and to leave and drive back to play this game is special," Rod continued. "I wonder if I could have done that myself. I don't know if I could have or not."
Curtis said he did what he had to do – both for his family in Illinois and his Ole Miss family.
"I'm a strong guy, so I tried not to think about it all," said Curtis, who scored 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 1-of-3 free throws while also collecting eight rebounds. "I had to get focused to play the game. I had to do that for my team. Other people have also been through difficult situations like this. So I had to make it."
Curtis said that since the Rebels don't play until next Saturday, he would try to get back up there to see his family and his brother.
"I want to try to go back sometime next week," he said. "I will just have to see how things go and see what happens."
As for the game today, Curtis' inside play once again was a key to another Rebel victory. MSU players and coaches said it was the putbacks and second-chance points which greatly aided the Rebel cause.
"We talked about that before the game and tried to do well on the boards," said Curtis – the rebounds actually ended up at 33 for each team in the contest. "They're a good rebounding team. They're long and big, so I tried to box out the best I could and have a good post presence and attack them. We went after loose balls and went to the boards. It's the stuff we practice every day."
Abernethy leads Rebels to win over MSU
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