No. 22 Ole Miss (12-0) manufactured a pivotal late run and set the all-time school record for consecutive wins to open a season with a 78-58 victory over Southern Mississippi (8-5) in front of a heavily-partisan Rebel crowd of 7,200 inside the Desoto Civic Center Friday night.
Ole Miss clung to a 6-point advantage at the 6:45 mark, but the lay-up by R.J. Horton would be the last Golden Eagle bucket. The Rebels poured in the final 14 points and received a standing ovation while the clock ticked to zero.
"It was anyone's game with 10 minutes left, and then we started making plays," Kennedy said. "The game was going to be won in the second half, and that is what we did.
"This is the best venue in the state of Mississippi that I have seen. They put on a quality event, and we will be back. I knew we would play in front of a juiced crowd and against a quality opponent that plays hard. That is exactly what we got."
The Rebels put four players in double figures led by Chris Warren's 17 points and 15 from Dwayne Curtis. David Huertas generated 12 points, while Eniel Polynice had his best complete game as a Rebel with 14 points, 13 boards and nine assists. The sophomore scored on three straight trips during the decisive run.
"This is the type of game that we recruited Polynice to play," Kennedy said. "It was his best effort from the floor and he did an incredible job, although he still does things that drive me crazy."
The Rebels are averaging double-digit minutes for 10 players and put eight in that category against the Golden Eagles. The depth allowed Ole Miss to not get bogged down by foul trouble and tire out USM.
Ole Miss committed 23 fouls to Southern's 22 and allowed Southern to spend more than 15 minutes in the bonus.
"One of the strengths of our team is that we have quality depth," Kennedy added. "There was heavy foul trouble across the board, and our depth helped us sustain when we needed to. I thought Southern got tired."
The Golden Eagles were led by a game-high 23 points from Horton and 17 by freshman point guard Jeremy Wise, who played the final 16 minutes with four fouls. Horton kept USM within striking distance thanks to a 10-of-11 night from the charity stripe. Conversely, the Rebels hit only 11-of-21 to avoid pulling away earlier.
"The free throws will come back to haunt us eventually," Kennedy said. "There is such a fine line, and we need to figure it out."
Kennedy also attributed the win to rebounding as Ole Miss and Southern are the ninth and sixth best teams nationally in total rebounds. Friday, the Rebels controlled the glass with a plus-14 rebounding margin (51-37).
Ole Miss led by six at the break (40-34) because of a 32-foot bomb by Warren as the clock expired.
As a team, the Rebels hit 43 percent from the field and 5-14 from behind the arc, while Southern shot 36 and 50 percent respectively.
Ole Miss returns to action Wed., Jan. 2 in Oxford against Alabama A&M.
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