"Difference in the game," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said of Polynice after his team's 74-58 win over the Commodores.
After a two-game losing skid, the Rebels needed somebody to step up and make something happen. Enter Polynice, who was more than willing after what he saw as a lackluster effort from his collective team against MSU.
But he made sure to spread the accolades to his teammates after this one like the leader he has already become in only his second season of college basketball.
"We were playing at home, and we played with a lot more energy," said Polynice, who was 6-for-9 from the field in the first half for 12 points, the only Rebel in double digits during a first half in which his team led 29-26 at the break. "Everybody came out focused and played together and made a big turnaround."
After his stellar first half, Polynice wasn't quite as productive in the scoring department in half number two with only six points. But he added four more assists to the lone one he had in the first half and was credited with two blocks and a steal in the second stanza.
He played 18 minutes each half and helped the Rebels get a much-needed win, their tenth in a row this season at Tad Smith Coliseum, the 18th consecutive home win dating back to a loss to Kentucky more than a year ago.
"I thought he did a terrific job on Shan Foster," Kennedy said of Polynice's defensive effort, limiting the Vandy star to 14 points, well under his season's average of 19.5. "I can remember two of (Shan's) five baskets were on out of bounds plays when we were trying to zone and do some different things because of the different looks they give you. I thought EP did a great job on him when we were in man."
While the green light is on for basically all Rebel players offensively, Polynice has an arrow each way as well.
"Offensively he's the one kid on our team that we challenge to create, to dribble through contact," Kennedy said. "I thought it was a pretty physical game, but that's life in the SEC. He has the ability to dribble through contact, and that's what he did."
The Rebels built their lead to 13 points on a Trevor Gaskins 3-pointer at 44-31 five minutes into the second half.
Vandy cut it to four points in a hurry with an 11-2 run, down just 46-42 some four minutes later.
That's when the Rebels seemed to get even tougher, mentally and physically. For the game's last 10 minutes, Ole Miss pulled away. The Rebels' lead was its largest so far at 65-51 with 3:06 left on a couple of Chris Warren free throws.
Kenny Williams was a big part of those final minutes, finishing the game with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"Kenny played with a great deal of energy," Kennedy said. "It was his first double-double in quite some time. He was very efficient. His steal at the end of the game (along with a drive and slam dunk which brought the crowd of 8,886 to its feet) took the wind out of their sails just by him being where he was supposed to be defensively."
In addition to Polynice's 18 and Williams' 10, Warren paced Ole Miss with 20 points. As a team the Rebels, 16-3 overall and 3-3 in SEC play, shot 47 percent from the floor.
Vandy was led by Foster's 14, and A.J. Ogilvy had 10.
Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings, his team falling to 17-4 and 2-4, said the Rebels' quick start to the second half was key.
"We got off to a bad start in the second half, and that was the difference in the game," he said. "We talked at halftime about continuing to do the things that kept us in the game in the first half. Obviously my message didn't get through."
Kennedy said he got what he hoped for out of his team collectively on this night, especially holding a potent Commodore offense to 35 percent shooting from the floor.
"You never really know what's going to happen " he said. "But the thing that struck me tonight was I thought our intensity was where it needs to be. Defensively we were really locked in and really focused on guarding. This is a (Vanderbilt) team that averages 85 points a game. I just thought we guarded, and that's probably been the biggest issue of our group. It was a team effort inside and out. It was a quality win and we got contributions from a number of players."
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