Andy Kennedy says 2-0 feels good any way you slice it.
"To be sitting here 2-0, regardless of who we're playing, how we're playing, or where we're playing, I will certainly take it," said Ole Miss' first-year head coach after the Rebels' 69-54 win over Louisiana-Lafayette before 2,134 in Oxford.
The Rebels actually played, at least in game two, without two likely starters in senior guard Todd Abernethy and junior center Dwayne Curtis. Abernethy, held out of action because of lingering effects from a slight concussion in the season-opening 72-49 win Friday night over Mississippi Valley State, should be available for the upcoming three games at the tournament in Connecticut this weekend when Ole Miss plays Fairfield, Central Arkansas, and UConn. Curtis, with a stress fracture in his left foot since the third preseason practice in mid-October, will not be available until sometime after the team returns home from the tourney.
The Rebels who were available for this one were led by senior guard Clarence Sanders, who exploded in the second half scoring 15 of his team-leading 22 points, including 4-of-7 for the game from 3-point range.
Others stepped up as well, specifically sophomore guard Justin Cerasoli with a UM career-high 10 points, along with junior forward Kenny Williams and senior guard Bam Doyne with 12 points apiece.
On the negative side, the Ragin' Cajuns had the best of it in the rebounding department in a big way - 44 to 29, including a 19 to 5 edge on the offensive boards.
"Our effort is decent at times, but to get outrebounded the way we did is inexcusable," Kennedy said. "It's just a lack of focus. I thought we started the game with a little bit of a lack of focus."
Kennedy was quick to point out that not having Abernethy was one of the clear reasons for that lack of focus.
"It scares me to death when Todd Abernethy is not in the game," he said of his senior point guard. "He's a guy we know we can count on, he knows where guys are supposed to be, and he puts guys in those places."
Kennedy says if not for the rebounding disparity, the defensive effort of the Rebels would have proven to be even more productive.
"It was pretty impressive," he said. "You hold a team to 54 points and they shoot 34 percent from the field. They got very few uncontested shots. They had a hard time solving our zone just like we did theirs."
Kennedy said his team's zone offense is not quite ready yet, and he said that is to be expected with the NCAA starting the season a week earlier than ever before. But practice still begins in mid-October.
"Zone offense is one of the last things you put in. One of the last things as a coach that you talk about, and it's universal, is zone offense," Kennedy said. "I think you saw that on both parts. They zoned us and we zoned them. We're trying to identify ourselves defensively with pressure and toughness, and we haven't talked that much about attacking zone or playing zone. As you could see, they were the same way. As a coach, you finally get to it."
The Rebels had enough in their gameplan to get their second win of the young campaign. UL-L led 8-5 early but a 12-0 UM run to make it 17-8 forced UL-L head coach Robert Lee to call a timeout to gather his troops. The Ragin' Cajuns got it down to three points on a couple of occasions before halftime.
But the Rebels went on a run that was a real game-swinger, according to the Cajuns' head man. Ole Miss led 25-22 and then outscored UL-L 9-0 before halftime to lead 34-22 at the break.
"There were a couple of turning points in this one," visiting Coach Lee said after his team fell to 1-1. "The first one was at the three-minute mark of the first half when we had a chance to cut the lead to a point and we missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Then they went on a run at the end of the half to go up 12 at halftime. The second was after we got the game back in hand only down six points, we didn't get out to their guys in the zone and we left Sanders and Doyne open. It went from six to 14 and that was the difference in the ballgame."
The last time the visitors cut it to six points was at the 11:48 mark to make it 46-40. But in less than two minutes Ole Miss moved out to a 54-40 lead behind a couple of Sanders 3-point baskets and a two-pointer by the senior guard from Florida. The closest they'd get to the Rebels from that point on was nine on a couple of occasions.
The Rebels had just nine turnovers to 13 for UL-L. Kennedy said the Rebels still made way too many mistakes in a lot of areas.
"I get frustrated because I know guys are making mental mistakes," Kennedy said. "I can handle physical mistakes. Mental mistakes drive me crazy, because I know how much time we put into it, how much effort and stress and strain we put into it. I try to tell myself to be patient. But that's difficult for me to do."
At 2-0, he'll still take it anyway.
Kennedy pleased his Rebs are 2-0
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