The final score of 72-49 Ole Miss over Mississippi Valley State was a bit deceiving, although the Rebels had a comfortable lead throughout the second half after building their advantage to 32-24 at halftime.
The challenge in this one for Ole Miss, already short-handed with junior center Dwayne Curtis out of action with a stress fracture in his left foot, was playing most of the game without starting guard Todd Abernethy. The senior point went out three minutes in with an injury to his left eye. He never returned.
"Todd Abernethy is the one guy who really dominates the ball for you offensively and really helps you in a lot of different facets," Kennedy said. "When he goes down three minutes in and we're forced to play without him for 37 minutes, that made it tougher against a well-coached team."
The Rebels found themselves down fairly quickly after MVSU led 17-13 midway through the first half. Kennedy attributed the play of junior guard Brian Smith with helping get things headed in the right direction.
"I thought he was the MVP of the game," said Kennedy of Smith after the Lexington, Ky., product played 21 minutes, scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting (2 of them 3s), along with an assist, a steal, and four rebounds. "Here's a guy that hasn't played a lot of minutes, and sometimes even when we go five on five in practice, he's not in that first 10. He really has to buy his time and be patient. Tonight because we struggled and because they had small perimeter guys, we needed something to happen. We went to him early and he really responded."
"Once Todd went down, I knew I had to play. I actually tried to play for Todd and also my team," the son of Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith said. "In the second half we defended well and did the little things real well. We played unselfish in the second half."
Ole Miss expanded the lead to 49-27 after only six minutes of the second half on a Xavier Hansbro layup. When Trey Hampton nailed a 3-pointer with 8:29 left, the Rebels held their largest lead of the night (26 points) at 59-33. Valley never got closer than 21 the rest of the way.
"We've obviously got some work to do, but I thought there were some positives, especially in the second half," Kennedy said. "In the first half I thought our guys were trying to re-invent motion. We were running motion without movement. Motion without movement is difficult. In the second half we started moving. Defensively I thought we were pretty good the whole game. We didn't rebound the ball like we're capable of rebounding. But I still thought defensively we were pretty solid the entire game."
Kennedy felt Valley was a good test and knew it would be.
"James Green's reputation precedes him," Kennedy said of the Delta Devils head coach, the former Ole Miss player and Southern Mississippi head coach. "We knew they would be very solid in the halfcourt defense. We knew they'd be ball control. We knew they would spread us. And that's what they did. We struggled with things early when Todd left the game, and our guys were searching at that point. They (Rebel players) figured it out and we were able to stretch the lead."
"They did a great job," Green said of Ole Miss. "Early we played at our tempo, but transition defense broke down toward the end of the first half, and it got worse in the second half. I thought they did an excellent job of refocusing and making adjustments. Give their coaches credit for that. They kinda pushed us out of what we wanted to do. Once they did that, they started to knock down some shots and pound it inside. We went from man to zone, and they started knocking it down from the perimeter. At that point you're in trouble, and that's what we were."
Abernethy, who Kennedy mentioned had a slight concussion, said he would likely be able to play Tuesday night when the Rebs host Louisiana-Lafayette.
"I was woozy at first and seeing double," he said. "I went back door and got screened. I think it was his shoulder that caught me. I haven't felt anything like that ever. They think I can practice Sunday. I definitely feel I'll be ready to play Tuesday."
Bam Doyne led all scorers with 19 points, followed by big men Xavier Hansbro and Jermey Parnell with 11 each and Smith's 10. No MVSU player scored in double figures, but senior forward Richard Cannon had 9 points.
Ole Miss shot 52 percent in the second half and 44 percent for the game. The Rebs improved from a 1-for-8 first half from 3-point range to 5-for-8 in the second half. The Rebels were 10-of-16 from the free throw line.
Valley shot only 25 percent for the game, including 14 percent from 3-point range and 74 percent from the free throw line.
Rebs open season with victory over Valley
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