The Rebels didn't get the ball inside to Curtis or Kenny Williams or Jermey Parnell all night long. But when they did, the move was effective. If you listen to the coaches and the observers of this one, it was the big men who contributed to the win for the Rebels 76-71 against Winthrop as much as any group.
"We try to have that mindset every game," said the 6-foot-8 center from Chicago of the inside play of the Rebels' three senior big men. "We know it's our last year, so we come to play every game and really every practice."
The personable Curtis, as much a smiling and patient gentleman off the court as he is an aggressive and effective player on it, waited around answering reporters' questions and visiting with fans in the coliseum Thursday night until some in the team's entourage had to come tell him it was time to get on the bus.
Curtis had taken the long road to Jackson and to the final year of his UM career. Attending Auburn out of high school, Curtis transferred to Ole Miss when Tiger assistant coach Tracy Dildy was hired by Rod Barnes after Auburn head coach Cliff Ellis and staff were fired.
After Barnes and Dildy left two years later, Curtis, who had sat out one year and played one for the Rebels, stayed at Ole Miss under new head coach Andy Kennedy. Curtis' road to a successful and important senior season hasn't always been easy.
Along with the many changes, he lost his brother in an auto accident since he's been at Ole Miss and has had numerous foot injuries. One of his hands was taped Thursday night.
But Curtis never complains and always looks forward. It's why he is one of the leaders and real keys to whatever the Rebels accomplish this season. At 8-0, that could be something significant come March.
One thing is to never take a team lightly and to be prepared, according to Curtis.
"We knew Winthrop was going to be good with some experienced seniors on their team," he said. "We knew they had been to the NCAA Tournament a lot. We knew we'd have to bring the heat, and we knew we'd have some fans here since we were playing in Mississippi. We knew we had to come to play, just like always."
Curtis agreed with his head coach that the Rebels aren't playing their best basketball right now despite winning two games outside of Oxford in their last two starts.
"We just have to keep practicing, keep working, to keep our heads up and keep pushing through," said Curtis, joined along the frontline against the Eagles by Williams with nine points and eight rebounds and Parnell, who had turned his ankle in practice Wednesday, with six points and just one rebound.
"It's all about preparation and trying to keep that focus and have that energy we need to play 40 minutes of basketball."
Winthrop head coach Randy Peele said the Rebels were a handful, not only inside but outside.
"I zoned a lot for two reasons. I was concerned about foul trouble because of the way they rebound. And Chris Warren had played with one of our kids who I am redshirting (Chris Malcolm of Orlando, Fla.). Chris Warren has exceptional speed. He's faster in person than he is on tape. I felt one of the ways to neutralize him was to zone a little bit. We played about 75 percent zone, and we're normally about 75 percent man."
Peele, who talked to the media for nearly 10 minutes, began the press conference with his head in his hands as he gathered his thoughts, and this was some 25 minutes after the game was over. Then he proceeded to express his disappointment time after time about losing the game.
"When you go on the road, you have to play at a really, really, really high level, and I'm not saying we didn't play well. But when they got ahead (63-61 with 7:28 to go), from that point on we just couldn't control anything defensively."
Peele said David Huertas' two 3s when his team was up seven (46-39) were two huge buckets in this one.
"We went zone there, and Huertas hit two 3s. We closed out to him short. He's shooting 21 percent; I'd read the stats. He can shoot it, and he hit them. And another thing is, they play so fast. They take a lot of shots. They try to engage you into the game of who is going to take quick shots. That's the game I didn't want to engage in. They want the game in the 80s or even 90s, and we wanted it in the 70s."
Even with the game in the 70s, the Rebels prevailed.
"They force you into a rat race, and I didn't want to play that way. I did everything I could. Go on the road and shoot 51 percent like we did and get beat, that's tough."
Peele said he thought the neutral site but home crowd for Ole Miss was a good move by the Rebels to play a game at a place like Jackson.
"I thought the atmosphere was pretty good. Great move by Ole Miss to reach out to the state. I'm not from Mississippi but I think like anything else, you have to continue to do it, continue to do it, and market. It's an absolutely brilliant idea and I commend them for it," Peele said, wrapping up his thoughts by repeating his statement from throughout the press conference.
"Just a tough loss for us...."
DC steps up; Winthrop coach down about loss
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