Strong finishes aid Rebs' 12-0 start

SOUTHAVEN - Ole Miss got the lead for good when David Huertas nailed a wide open 3-pointer with 6:07 to go in the first half. The Rebels led 27-24 at that point, but it wasn't until the last five minutes of the game that this one was decided.

But that's nothing new for the Rebels this season. There's something about this 22nd-ranked and soon to move up Ole Miss basketball team that normally plays better late than early. It was that way again in their 78-58 win over Southern Mississippi here Friday night before an announced and likely accurate crowd of 7,200 mostly Reb fans. There might have been 100 USM fans in the entire place.

When Eniel Polynice laid it in for a 68-58 UM lead with five minutes left in the game, the Rebels had a little breathing room and a double-digit lead for the first time all night. But nobody could have predicted the 20-point victory margin that was to come.

So how has Ole Miss gotten to a school-record start of 12-0? Let me count the ways. Better yet, let me point to one aspect: depth. The Rebels wore the Golden Eagles down, and both coaches agreed on that point.

"We had to leave some guys out there for too long a periods of time," said USM Coach Larry Eustachy. "It caught up with us. The game obviously got away from us at the end. We got really fatigued late."

Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy concurred.

"We have quality depth," said the second-year Rebel head coach who played eight players double-digit minutes against USM. "Our depth helped us when we needed it most. And I also thought Southern Miss got tired. In the first half, it was very physical and they were attacking us. I thought in the second half we started putting our bodies on theirs and becoming more competitive in the paint, which is where the game was won."

Senior guard Brian Smith said the Rebels know that at the end of games they are going to be ready, physically and mentally.

"I think it is because we have been in this situation before," said Smith, who had six points on two big 3-pointers in this one. "We just keep getting stronger at the end of the games. Our strength is our depth. Once a team begins to wear down, we just step up and our focus becomes even greater. Basketball is so mental."

And of course there's talent, too. Eustachy wasn't hesitant to point that out.

"The best thing about Ole Miss' future is that they're real young. They'll be a team to be reckoned with for a long time," he said.

But the veteran Eustachy added one last comment about the Ole Miss program and its future - and its present.

"They have maybe the best young coach in the country," he said of Kennedy. "It starts with that. He's the total package as far as recruiting, so the program will continue to get better. This young group, I think they're very, very good. They may have some nights where they'll be on the other end of a score like this one. But as they mature and become an NCAA Tournament team, there's no telling how far they can go."

So far, it's been to a perfect 12-0 start.

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