Rebs roll past Tigers to advance to Saturday

ATLANTA - Kenny Williams came out on fire in Friday night's Ole Miss-LSU game won by the Rebels 80-60. He set the tone and his teammates followed his lead all the way to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.

Ole Miss led 8-5 at the first media timeout, and the junior from Miami by way of St. Petersburg Junior College had six of the Rebels' points. This is from a guy who has averaged 5.8 points per contest this season. He'd passed that mark in less than five minutes of this one.

But he didn't stop there. As soon as the players broke huddle, it was Williams again, this time with a putback of a Dwayne Curtis miss, who put the Rebs up 10-5.

The game was far from over, but it was apparent the Rebels had come to play. Certainly the Tigers had played an overtime game Thursday night in beating Tennessee 76-67. But one of last year's Final Four participants was no match for the Rebels in this one.

"You could tell who wanted this game, and we did," said senior guard Todd Abernethy, who scored 10 points with six rebounds, two assists, and two steals.

Abernethy said Williams, with two blocks and four rebounds in the first half, was a big part of what the Rebels were able to do early and throughout the contest.

"He was huge for us," he said. "LSU is so big and has a lot of length. He stepped up and had some blocks. He was focused right from the start."

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said Williams, who wound up 6-of-6 from the field for the contest with 12 points, has come a long way in his first season of Division I basketball.

"Kenny has really grown by leaps and bounds with his confidence offensively," he said. "There were times weeks ago that he would never have thought about stepping out to start a game and look for his offense from 12 to 15 feet. But he's worked at it and grown more confident throughout the course of the year. That's often typical of a first-year guy. He always had the physical attributes, and now he's putting forth the necessary effort to be an everyday contributor."

Williams said it was all in the gameplan of this one. He and the other Rebel big men knew what they had to do.

"LSU had dominated us on the glass the two times we played them," he said. "So it was very important for us to come out early and play well. We knew our guards would do what they do day in and day out. So we (big men) had to do our part."

Junior forward/center Jermey Parnell didn't have the numbers in this one, but his contributions were invaluable. He finished with two points and four rebounds.

Curtis, the junior center, had been nursing a big toe injury but has been able lately to play through the pain. Against the Tigers he had seven points, three rebounds, and two steals in 19 minutes.

Of course it is LSU center Glen Davis who gets more attention than any of the Rebels' big men. The frontcourt of Ole Miss held him to six points on 1-of-8 shooting. He had just seven rebounds.

The Rebels led from the get-go as LSU was never in front. Ole Miss, which shot 52 percent (27-of-52) from the floor, went up by 16 points at 26-10 with 4:42 to go in the first half on a 3-pointer by Bam Doyne, and it appeared something special might be in the works. The senior guard ended up with a game-high 26 points including 3-of-6 from 3-point range.

"I was more open than I thought I was going to be," said Doyne, who had earlier in the season led the team in scoring but had slipped some in the past month. He had only two double-digit scoring games in his last six contests prior to Friday night.

"The opportunities presented themselves for me," Doyne continued as he talked about his game vs. LSU. "I was confident in myself and I made some shots. A lot of times I was driving and trying to create for other people, and I found myself a lot more open than I thought I'd be. So I just took advantage of it."

Kennedy said Doyne stepped up in a bigtime way for the Rebs.

"Bam was really aggressive," he said. "We tried to spread them. We talked about the fact that LSU has great size and length. So we tried to really work on getting our spacing better. Bam did a great job of knifing through and finishing. He made some shots early and was really, really confident and in an attack mode. It was the best he's played offensively in quite some time."

The Rebels, now 2-1 vs. LSU this season, led 37-17 at halftime. The Tigers only got it to within 14 points on two occasions after that. The largest lead for Ole Miss was 25 points at 78-53 on a Brian Smith 3-pointer with 2:21 to go.

Kennedy cleared the bench late and played 15 players before this one was over.

In addition to the previously mentioned double-digit scorers for the Rebels, freshman Eniel Polynice had 11 points, two steals, two assists, and three rebounds in 24 minutes.

LSU shot an abysmal 14 percent (4-of-29) from the field in the first half and was able to pull that up to 50 percent (16-of-32) in the second half.

Ole Miss outscored LSU in the paint 32 to 28. The Tigers had 13 turnovers and the Rebels 11. But Ole Miss made the most of points off turnovers, winning that battle 15 to 5.

The Tigers actually outrebounded the Rebels 37 to 34, but on the defensive boards it was the Rebels with a 26 to 20 advantage.

Tasmin Mitchell paced LSU with 17 points.

The Rebels (20-11) now face Southeastern Conference regular season champion Florida (27-5), which beat Georgia (17-13) by a final score of 74-57 in a game prior to the Ole Miss-LSU contest. The Gators beat the Rebels 79-70 in Gainesville on Jan. 20.

"I've told a lot of people that the second half at Florida was the turning point for us," Abernethy said. "They put it to us the first half, but we came back in the second half and that made us believe. We knew if we could hang with the No. 1 team in the country, then we could win some games in the SEC."

Now they get another shot at the Gators. A win and the consensus here is that Ole Miss is in the NCAA Tournament. A loss and the Rebs are out. Simple as that, according to most who feel they know.

Abernethy said beating LSU (17-15) soundly was at least another step.

"We want to win as many games as possible," he said. "This made a statement, beating LSU by 20, a team which just beat Tennessee the night before. We have an awesome opportunity (Saturday vs. Florida) against one of the best teams in the country. We realize how big that game is, and we're going out and give it our all."

Senior guard Clarence Sanders, with nine points in the game vs. LSU, said he knows how long he wants to be in Atlanta.

"This win gives us 20," he said. "It makes us one step closer to getting an NCAA Tournament bid. We want to be playing here on Sunday."

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