Ole Miss moves to 9-0 with win over DePaul

SAN JUAN - On a night when Ole Miss was carried by its senior frontcourt, it was freshman point guard Chris Warren who hit the big shot to lead Ole Miss to a 69-63 win over DePaul in the opening round of the San Juan Shootout.

The Rebels (9-0) had an inbounds play with 31 seconds remaining in the game and 11 seconds on the shot clock leading 64-63. Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy designed a play for Warren, and he responded by sinking a 3-pointer from the top of the key, despite being only 3-13 from the floor previously, for a 67-63 advantage.

"We didn't know if they were going to go man or zone, since they (DePaul) starting switching their defenses at the end," Kennedy said. "So we called a play that we felt would give us an angle regardless. It was a hard shot, but he got a good look, he got his shoulders square and knocked down a big play for us."

On a night when poor shooting was contagious as both teams shot below 35 percent from the floor for the game, senior Dwayne Curtis was the only player to shoot over 50 percent (7-12) from the field for either team. Curtis carried the Rebels with 21 points and seven rebounds. Fellow senior Kenny Williams had a season-high 16 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.

Kennedy said the fact the Rebels were able to find a way to win a highly-contested contest for the third game in a row will pay dividends down the road.

"When you shoot 34 percent from the field, and 24 percent from three, and yet you still beat a Big East opponent on a neutral site, I think it speaks to the potential of the team if we can continue to address our areas of concern," Kennedy said.

Perhaps the biggest focus for the Rebels is how to attack a 2-3 zone defense. After Winthrop used the zone to stymie Ole Miss last week in Jackson in a 76-71 UM win, DePaul followed suit.

"DePaul is a man to man team," Kennedy said. "In seven games we've watched in preparation of this, I bet in the seven games combined they had probably played 10 possessions of zone, and they play us 40 minutes (of zone)."

Curtis was key in breaking the zone. The 6-foot-8 center, playing a team from his native Chicago, scored 13 second-half points.

"That zone gets tighter and tighter, and so does that rim from the perimeter," Kennedy said. "In the second half I thought we did a better job of finding DC with angles, and thank goodness he came through for us like you need seniors to do."

Although DePaul surprised the Rebels with the zone defense, Kennedy said that it couldn't be used as an excuse the next time.

"I would certainly hope we are more prepared for it. We have to settle in a little bit, and step in and knock down some open shots, and continue to do the work that we did on the offensive glass. Seventeen huge offensive rebounds were the key to the game."

Ole Miss will have a quick turnaround to play Atlantic-10 conference member LaSalle in the second day of the tournament. That game is Friday at 4:30 p.m. Central time.

DePaul (2-6) was led by guard Draelon Burns with 17 points. Burns also went a perfect 12-12 from the free throw line.

"We'll go back and try to get some rest," Kennedy said. "This was a hard, grinding game. We had to play a lot of guys heavy minutes. We'll get back tonight and start preparation for LaSalle and get our guys to try and key in on the things they do, and come back in 24 hours and try and do it again."

After a game with nine ties and 11 lead changes, Kennedy was glad to pick up a win over another major conference opponent. The Rebels' 9-0 start is the best for a UM men's basketball team since the 2000-01 team started 11-0 before losing to Iowa State.

"This was a huge win because it was SEC versus Big East," Kennedy said. "Regardless of how we played, regardless of both teams being somewhat erratic at times with their offensive proficiency, this is one you can hang your hat on. Any time you have a chance to play a power league, I think we helped our league (SEC), and I think we helped ourselves."

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