The Rebels, 6-0 and off to their best start since 2000-01 when they reached the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen, have won games going away. They've won games when they had early leads that they lost. Their latest one, played before 6,731 at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum, reminded Coach Andy Kennedy of an earlier Rebel game.
"It was a lot like our game with South Alabama," said Kennedy of the Rebels' 81-78 win over the Jaguars in the second game of this season. "We got a big lead and started scoreboard watching. That happened again today."
But the good news in both instances? The Rebels won those games.
New Mexico, which fell to 7-1 on the season, came in allowing only 54 points per contest. The Rebels, averaging 96 a game, left some points on the floor, according to Kennedy.
"I didn't think we played particularly well in the second half," said Kennedy, whose team led 47-30 at halftime. "We missed some assignments. We missed free throws. We turned it over way too much for a team that doesn't turn it over much. Yet we were still able to beat a quality opponent by a comfortable margin. We had learned some things through our first five games that were beneficial to us today."
Trevor Gaskins, who drew a start in place of David Huertas, and Eniel Polynice nailed back to back 3-pointers in the game's first minute, and Ole Miss never trailed. The lead was soon 11-2 and the Lobos were already in trouble and with a long way to go. It didn't get any better for the visitors, at least not in the first half.
The largest lead of the first half for Ole Miss was 42-23 with 2:34 left before intermission on a Huertas 3-pointer. The Rebels shot 56 percent in the opening 20 minutes, including 43 percent from 3-point range. But it was the inside play of the big men, especially Dwayne Curtis, that pushed the lead out for Ole Miss.
"I just came out with good intensity, but the whole team did," said Curtis, 6-of-8 from the floor in the first half (8-of-10 for the game) with a mixture of layups and putbacks. "We didn't play with that type intensity the last game, and we've talked about that since."
That intensity remained until late in this one when the Lobos made a comeback. Ole Miss held its largest lead at 23 points (65-42) on a 3-pointer by Chris Warren with 11:17 left.
Slowly, methodically UNM chipped away, and when the lead got down to 74-64 with 3:47 to go, things were a bit unsettling for the Rebs. New Mexico was on a 10-2 run at that point, but the Rebels made some free throws (9 of 11 in the final 3:47) and were able to finish down the stretch.
"The Lobos are a good team," said Curtis, with 20 points to lead the Rebels along with 10 rebounds. "They were undefeated and brought even more intensity in the second half."
Best team the Rebels have played so far?
"Yes, I would definitely say that," Curtis said.
Kennedy said starting Gaskins in place of Huertas was to simply do that – change things up a bit.
"Just trying to get him out his rhythm a little bit," Kennedy said of Huertas who has struggled some through five games. "Just give him a different perspective to start the game."
Huertas played 25 minutes, scoring six points with two assists and three rebounds.
Kennedy said Gaskins responded to the start.
"I thought he did OK," said Kennedy of Gaskins, who also played 25 minutes, scoring 14 points with two assists and two rebounds. "I'd hoped to ease both he and Chris (Warren) into all this and not put so much responsibility on them. But they're going to have to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and lead this team. I think they're capable of doing it. They just need some experience."
Polynice ended the game with 12 points, one of four Rebs in double figures.
UNM Coach Steve Alford was impressed with the Rebels, especially Warren, the true freshman point guard, who had 16 points, five assists, and two turnovers.
"No 1, they're very talented," said Alford of the Rebels. "The Warren kid does a tremendous job. He's very hard to keep in front. He's just a hard guy to keep track of. He plays with great energy and great enthusiasm. It starts with him."
Alford said that while his team has some good statistical numbers, there's still work to be done.
"Our numbers look great defensively, but we're nowhere near where we need to be defensively," said the first-year Lobos head coach. "We have to continue to develop a better mindset defensively."
Alford said the Rebels' big men were a problem for his ballclub.
"We're not big," he said. "We're just not a big team. Curtis got away from us at times, a very, very talented player. I thought their bench, their big guys, came in and did some nice things for them. (Kenny) Williams is a load in there, too. They're just very big, very athletic, and we can't matchup very well with that."
Roman Martinez led New Mexico with 17 points.
"Like any home team, they came out shooting and scoring," Martinez said of the Rebels. "They got 85 on us, so we have some work to do defenisvely. They worked hard and they came out gunning for us."
Ole Miss ended the game shooting 51 percent (28-of-55). The Rebels were 9-of-23 from 3-point range (39 percent), and 20-of-33 from the free throw line (61 percent).
New Mexico shot 47 percent (27-of-58), including 9-of-21 (43 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc, and 14-of-20 (70 percent) from the line.
The Rebels' next action is Sat., Dec. 8 at Central Florida.
Rebs end homestand with win over Lobos
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