Sanders soars on Plains as Rebs win

AUBURN, Ala. - The game was almost seven minutes old and the Ole Miss Rebels were already ahead by seven points. But the party was just getting started for Clarence Sanders.

The senior guard from nearby Phenix City, Ala., who didn't start, scored on a jumper from the left corner for three points to give his team a 16-6 lead with 13:03 to go in the first half. That's when Sanders joined the fun in a big way as the Rebs rolled up a 25-10 first-half lead on their way to an impressive 82-59 Southeastern Conference victory against Auburn.

Before the halftime horn sounded, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Sanders made three more treys, and the Rebels led 43-31 at intermission.

"It doesn't matter if I'm starting or coming off the bench," said Sanders, who had 21 points in 28 minutes. "I just want to help my team."

Ole Miss had led by as much as 16 points in the first half when the Rebels went up 28-12 on a Bam Doyne 3-pointer with 8:12 left.

After Auburn went on an 8-0 run to cut the Rebel lead to 43-39 to start the second half, it was Sanders who ignited the Rebels with a 3-point basket with 17:40 to go in the contest.

From that point on the Rebels slowly and methodically pulled away from the host Tigers. The lead was back up to 16 points at 60-44 on an inbounds layup by Dwayne Curtis with 10:53 left in the game.

After the outcome was no longer in doubt and with the Rebels leading 76-59, it was Sanders who put the exclamation point on the day's festivities with back to back 3-pointers to cap the 23-point victory. Then he celebrated with some 70 friends and family who were at the game.

"I love playing in front of my family and friends," said Sanders, who was met at the door leading out of the arena to dancing and cheering from his hometown fans. "This is the first time half of them have seen me play live. My pops (Clarence Sanders, Sr.) is a big basketball fan, and I love playing in front of him. He looked over at me and winked (before the game), and I knew I had to have a good game."

It was a mentality that his head coach said the entire UM team had in this one.

"Our guys certainly brought the right approach to the game today," said Ole Miss first-year head coach Andy Kennedy, his team now 15-8 on the season, 4-5 in SEC action. "It was just one of those days. We knew coming in here we weren't going to back our way into a win. Our guys were aggressive right out of the gate. We made some timely shots early, and when they made a run at us, much like we did against Mississippi State (Tuesday night in an 85-73 UM victory), our kids responded every time. That was big step forward for our group."

And when Auburn made the run to open the second half?

"We wanted to regroup and stay aggressive," Kennedy said.

That they did, moving in front by 18 points at 65-47 midway through the second half.

"(Auburn) came out and hit some big shots and got the momentum," senior Todd Abernethy said. "Their press forced some turnovers. But Coach (Kennedy) called a timeout and cleared our heads."

Following Sanders in the scoring department were Bam Doyne with 20, Dwayne Curtis with 19, and Abernethy with 14.

Curtis said the Rebels continue to get better.

"We're getting more comfortable playing with each other and the little things we do," said Curtis, who played his freshman season for Auburn before transferring to Ole Miss.

"This was a nice win. Everybody stepped up," said Abernethy. "On the road you need everybody ready to play, and we had that today. Everybody knew how big a win today would be."

Auburn players said Ole Miss played well and the Tigers didn't. That was it in a nutshell.

"They had wide open shots and shot the ball well," said Tiger sophomore guard Quantez Robertson. "We had careless turnovers. We were not getting into our offense and doing what we do best."

His teammate, junior guard Frank Tolbert, said the Tigers (15-10 and 4-5) were not ready to play.

"We just came out flat today," he said. "I'm not taking anything away from Ole Miss because they played a great game. But you can't just come to a game and expect to win."

Josh Dollard led four Auburn players in double figures with 13 points.

The Rebels had 17 turnovers to the Tigers 25. In points off turnovers, Ole Miss outscored Auburn 31-10.

Ole Miss was 12-of-22 from 3-point range for 55 percent.

Both teams had 10 offensive rebounds, but in second-chance points, the Rebs outscored the Tigers 13-3.

The final score marked the worst loss ever for Auburn to Ole Miss at home, and the second worst loss for the Tigers to the Rebels anywhere.

Prior to winning at South Carolina Wednesday night, the Tigers had lost 91-66 to top-ranked Florida at Auburn. The 23-point loss to Ole Miss marked the first back to back 20-point home losses for Auburn since the 1990-91 season.

The Rebels now have a week off from games before hosting Alabama at 4 p.m. Saturday.

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