Rebs withstand second-half surge by Jags

Andy Kennedy said his team got just what it needed. Ronnie Arrow said his team got basically what it deserved.

Of course Kennedy was pleased with a victory for his Ole Miss Rebels, while Arrow was wishing there'd been just a little more time in this one as his South Alabama Jaguars weren't able to complete a dramatic comeback and lost 81-78.

The visitors from Mobile, Ala., trailed 51-32 at halftime but looked like an entirely different team in the second half, slowly but surely catching up with the Rebels and getting as close as the final margin before time expired.

"This was perfect for our team," said Kennedy, his team now 2-0 on the season and 18-1 at home in two seasons. "Honestly, I can't sit here and tell you I enjoyed it. But it's exactly what we needed."

Kennedy was referring to a group of young players still trying to learn about the game at this level. They listen to the veterans and to their coaches, but they have to experience games like this to truly learn from them and move on.

Arrow, his team now 1-1 on the season, said he and his players had a very brief chalk talk in the locker room at halftime.

"I wrote one word on the board – Pride," he said. "We had no pride in the first half. Take nothing away from Ole Miss, but we just went out there in the first half and went through the motions. We had a gut-check at halftime. What we got the first half we deserved. What we got the second half we deserved."

And they almost got a win. As the Rebels' lead continued to slip away, the Jaguars got more confident. Guards Demetric Bennett with 28 points and Domonic Tilford with 15 found their range and some confidence and lifted their team.

The UM lead had all but evaporated late. Guard Daon Merritt, with only eight points but with seven assists in the contest, joined the duo in making some things happen late for the Jags. Merritt's layup with 6:32 left cut the Rebel lead to 70-60. Later he stole the ball and scored on a short jumper to make it 74-67 with 4:30 to go, and USA was as close as it had been since the early stages of the contest. Merritt's layup with 3:02 to go cut it to six at 78-72, and nobody on the Rebels' side of this one was breathing easy.

Ole Miss led 79-73 when South Alabama's DeAndre Coleman missed a jumper. Ole Miss got the rebound and Bennett fouled Chris Warren who went to the other end and sank two free throws for an 81-73 lead with 20.5 seconds to go.

Breathe easy time for the Rebels? Not just yet.

Bennett nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 9.9 seconds to go to cut the UM lead to 81-76. After a USA foul with 7.8 seconds to go, Trevor Gaskins missed two free throws for the Rebels, and USA was on the move again.

A fallaway 12-foot jump shot by Bennett with 1.5 seconds left made it 81-78, and the game was only a Rebel turnover and Jaguar 3-point basket from overtime. Part of that scenario actually happened.

On the throw in, David Huertas got the ball in to Eniel Polynice who was guarded but was running toward Huertas to get the ball. The basketball rolled off Polynice's leg and out of bounds with .4 seconds left.

As Tilford threw it in for USA, Rebel Terrence Watson, guarding the inbounds play, jumped up, tipped the ball, came down with it and the horn sounded on a Rebel victory.

Polynice, the sophomore guard, had lifted the Rebels in the first half, scoring 21 points in the opening stanza, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range. He finished the game as the Rebs' high scorer but, like the direction the game took for his team, had only seven points in the second half for 28 on the night.

For the Rebels in addition to Polynice's 28 points, Warren had 12 points in the game, Williams 11, and Dwayne Curtis 10.

Freshman center Malcolm White did not dress out for the game. Kennedy said he strained his achilles and is being rested to get him back to 100 percent.

The shooting stats mirrored the game as well. In half one, Ole Miss shot 58 percent but only 35 percent in the second. South Alabama shot 38 percent in the first half and 49 percent in the second.

"Ole Miss is a very good shooting team," Arrow said. "In the first half, we applied no pressure whatsoever. And you can't do that."

In the second half they did. And Ole Miss' large lead began to slip away. Kennedy said the Rebels began to watch the clock instead of continuing to attack. He mentioned the play of Polynice as an example of what happened to his team.

"In the first half, Eniel was shooting it before it even touched his hands," Kennedy said. "In the second half he was jumping in the air and throwing the ball to inside guys and the ball was going out of bounds, just making some mistakes."

But Polynice had plenty of company in the final half of play.

"We had no offensive flow in the second half," Kennedy said. "They zoned us a little bit and we got tentative. When you're up by 20 points and in control of the game, you do start watching the clock a little bit. I could see our guys kinda playing not to lose at the end of the game as opposed to winning the game. But that's inexperience and something we have to live with until we learn."

Arrow said there was but one glaring negative for his troops.

"The only thing was they won. But this was good for both of these teams," Arrow said. "I hope this got our attention."

Certainly Andy Kennedy feels the same way.

"Thank goodness," he said, "that we were able to escape."

Ole Miss hosts Lamar University Friday at 7 p.m.

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