Smith's trey sparks Rebs to NIT win

Brian Smith's 3-pointer might not have seemed like much more than just another basket at the time. But his trey to put Ole Miss up 56-51 with 7:23 to go in the game was just the shot the Rebels had been looking for.

"It was a play that was drawn up in the huddle during the timeout," said Smith after the Rebels had defeated Appalachian State 73-59. "We were up by two points (53-51) and I was supposed to come off a screen on the baseline. Bam is supposed to penetrate and kick it to Clarence, and I'm supposed to come around and come off the screen and hit it on the wing. I was open. I'm glad it went in. It gave us a boost."

That it did as the crowd roared its approval and the Rebels began a 14-0 spurt to lead 67-51 when Todd Abernethy hit a 3-pointer at the run's end.

Abernethy, who led Ole Miss in scoring with 18 points, said Smith's shot was indeed a spark the Rebels needed at that point in a close game.

"It was a huge three by Brian," said the Rebels' senior point guard. "That's what he does. He comes in and makes things happen. He sparked a big run. That's what a team is all about, guys like him."

Ole Miss had taken the early lead in this one. Up 7-0, Clarence Sanders missed a 3-pointer that would have blown the roof off the place. As it was, the visiting Mountaineers kept things very interesting the rest of the first half and trailed only 38-35 at the break.

ASU went up 49-48 on a steal and a layup by D.J. Thompson with 10:48 to go in the game. After a Rebel turnover, Sanders returned the favor with a steal and a layup of his own moments later to put Ole Miss up 50-49 with 10:14 remaining. The Rebels never trailed again but they were not out of the woods yet.

After a basket and a free throw by Kenny Williams gave the Rebels a 53-49 edge, followed by a layup from ASU's Demetrius Scott which cut the UM lead to 53-51, along came Smith's 3-pointer, his only points of the entire contest, to send the Rebels on their way to victory.

You think back to Smith's deflections on defense throughout the course of the season, like the ones late that helped Ole Miss beat LSU on Sanders' buzzer-beater 71-70 in Oxford. And there were some big shots and some hustle plays from Smith in just about every game this season.

The Rebels will need more of that from him and others if they are to advance with a win at Clemson Monday night in the second round of the NIT. The Tigers won at home over East Tennessee State 64-57 Wednesday night.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said Smith has been big for the Rebels at some critical times this season.

"He'll certainly do that every once in a while," Kennedy said. "That was a big one tonight."

Smith says he's just doing what his coach says.

"Coach (Kennedy) really wants me to do the little things on the court when I get in," Smith said. "Play aggressive defense, get loose balls, and make open shots whenever I get a chance to."

The next chance is Monday night as the Rebels, now 21-12, try to keep their special season alive.

Thompson led ASU, which ended its season 25-8, with 17 points.

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