The senior guard came to Ole Miss because his parents, Tubby and Donna Smith, wanted him to play for Rod Barnes. When Andy Kennedy replaced the former Rebel head coach, Smith stayed and has flourished in an important role.
He's made some big shots the past couple of years, most of the time at just the right time when the Rebels needed him most. And he's made some big defensive plays as well, a few times being the difference in the Rebels winning and losing. Last year's LSU game comes to mind, when Smitty, as Kennedy calls him, tipped a ball on an LSU offensive play that allowed Ole Miss to come up with the ball late. That was the game when Clarence Sanders hit the shot from the corner to lift Ole Miss to an important home win.
Friday night in Southaven the Rebels, so deep, so talented, and so young in some areas, especially the backcourt, needed a spark. That was especially true when Chris Warren got into some foul trouble. Enter Smitty.
He hit only two buckets all night, both 3-pointers and both at times when the Rebels and their coaches and fans needed a lift.
The first one made it 51-44 Ole Miss. The Golden Eagles had trimmed a nine-point Rebel lead to four. Smith stepped up big and nailed it with 12 minutes left.
Ole Miss moved out by nine again, and USM whittled it down to two at 56-54. With 8 minutes to go, Smith again launched one and sank it for a 59-54 UM advantage. Three minutes later an Eniel Polynice layin made it 68-58, giving the Rebs a double-digit lead for the first time in the contest. And USM was wearing down.
"He was tremendous," Kennedy said of Smith. "He plays every game in a limited role. Usually when he comes in it's to spell Chris. But tonight we needed him to sustain our team. Chris picked up his fourth foul (with 10 minutes to go in the game), and it's a three or four point game. So we go to Brian Smith, and he responded like you want seniors to do."
Smith says it's all about doing what he's supposed to do for his team.
"Coach called my name and told me to lead the team," he said. "I just took that to the court and came in with confidence and tried to help my team as much as possible."
Smith said he likes the role.
"I just try to prepare myself each game, and I know I'm going to get some minutes. It might not be heavy minutes, but I just try to be ready. I practice hard each day and prepare, and I take game shots in practice. I feel good out there because I am prepared."
Smith suffered through two losing seasons his first two years at Ole Miss. To be a part of the best start in school history brings a smile to Smith's face.
"This is great, and it's only the beginning," Smith said. "We're still going up and we're not looking back. We're going to leave it all on the court and stay together as a team."
There's been some talk on the message board and among fans about comparing the 4,500 in Jackson to the 7,200 in Southaven. Some of it had to do with the opponent. USM is a bigger draw among Ole Miss fans than Winthrop, but that's not the real reason for the difference in the crowd numbers.
There's a list, but the main thing is momentum built by this 12-0 Ole Miss team and its national ranking this week. Namely the Clemson win put things over the top as far as drawing a big crowd for USM.
A lot of folks put a lot of effort into both games and the successful events they were. It just so happened that two more weeks of winning and the excitement that has built lately probably got an extra two thousand or more to the game Friday night.
It's really unfair to compare the two. One was on a Thursday night before Christmas. One a Friday night after Christmas. Some said, right or wrong, they didn't feel that safe at the fairgrounds in Jackson; I didn't hear that mentioned about the Desoto Civic Center.
All that's for certain is that Andy Kennedy said he will do more of this. He'll play more off-campus games, a couple a year likely, into the future.
When asked by a reporter a few days ago if Tupelo, where the Rebels have played before, was a possibility, AK jokingly said anywhere is a possibility, especially if they can draw a crowd.
"Louisville, Kosciusko, Nettleton," he smiled and said.
In all seriousness, the Rebels will be back in Southaven and Jackson, and they'll be in Biloxi and Tupelo, too. Those places have the facilities to host a major college basketball event. And it makes good sense for the Rebels to be there on occasion during the holiday season when the students are gone and the games in Oxford don't draw as well.
My guess is UM-USM would have drawn maybe 5,000 in Oxford Friday night. It was worth having 2,200, give or take, additional fans there as the Rebels showcased themselves in a different locale where many of their fans reside.
Now the Rebs are back in Oxford. Alabama A&M is up next on Wednesday night next week. That's Jan. 2, and there are some bowl games on TV. And many fans will be back at work after the New Year's break.
But the winning and national ranking will mean a few more fans will show up, even for a game against Alabama A&M. After that, of course, the place should be filled all season.
OK, maybe not for Presbyterian College on Feb. 11. But by then the excitement may be so high that 9,000 might just show up on a Monday night for that one.
Just the possibility that it might happen is a change for the better and almost mind-boggling, huh.
Smith steps up to help Rebel cause
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