Rebels respond with big win

Was it because it was basically do or die? Was it because it was State? Was it the vocal home crowd? Was it better defense? What made a difference for Ole Miss in its 74-63 win over Mississippi State in Oxford Wednesday night?

"Yes" was the answer the Rebel players gave to each.

But it was Andy Kennedy who may have summed it up for them as much as they did for themselves.

"Not as much celebrating in that locker room as there was relief," he said.

Before the game, according to Dwayne Curtis, the Rebels made sure they were ready.

"We took a little bit of a different approach before this game," said Curtis, who owned the boards and with 16 was the only player on either team with double digit rebounds. "We definitely had more energy. It was intense. I like that."

It definitely seemed to work as Ole Miss got its third straight win in Oxford over the Bulldogs. The Rebels answered every shot the SEC West-leading Bulldogs presented early. And early, neither team missed.

Hansbrough for 3, then Huertas. Gordon for 3, then Huertas again. Rhodes with a 14-foot jumper in the lane. Curtis with a putback. It's 8-8 and the crowd hasn't settled in yet.

As expected, things calmed down a bit after that. State grabbed a 23-16 lead but Ole Miss answered the run and more to go up 35-30 at halftime. The Bulldogs never led in the second half.

For the Rebels it was a state of mind, like in the first couple of months of the season, that Kennedy said his team has to have to be successful.

"We have to play with an edge," he said.

The Rebels' backcourt of Eniel Polynice and Chris Warren were keys in this one. They had been early in the year, but it had been a few games since they were this effective.

Warren to Polynice for a jam helped the Rebels get a little breathing room before halftime, making it 29-25. After a State miss, it was an Eniel drive and layup that made it 31-25.

State trailed 33-30 and appeared to be looking for the last shot to end the first half. Barry Stewart took a 3-point shot that was blocked out front by Curtis. The Rebel big man threw the ball to Warren who got it in the hands of Polynice for a layup at the buzzer as most of the 9,167 in attendance erupted.

In the second half, Warrren's 3-point basket from the top of the key gave his team a 59-48 lead with just over six minutes left. The freshman scored 17 of his 22 points after halftime.

He was stellar down the stretch. So was Polynice.

Warren to Curtis for a layup to make it 63-57. EP to DC for another layup and it's 65-57.

Then Chris to Eniel for the slam and it's 67-57.

Jamont Gordon was all-everything for State with 20. But his last shot of the game was blocked - by Polynice.

The sophomore played a good bit of point for the Rebs in this one. It seemed to help and maybe disturbed State just a bit.

"It was good," said Warren, the Rebels' usual point guard, of Polynice at the point. "It helped us. It was something new. I got angles and created some space for my teammates."

Polynice said the Rebels looked like their old selves out there at times, pushing the ball and scoring in a hurry.

"That's our team," he said. "We're a fast-break team. The more we can push the ball and get layups and easy baskets, the better it is for us."

The Rebels also were much better defensively than in recent games. Curtis said it was the best the Rebels had been in that area in a while.

"Everybody was sitting down, guarding, and contesting every shot," he said. "They still made some tough shots, but we were better on defense."

That, coupled with the fast start, was huge for Ole Miss in this one.

"Tonight we came out with a lot intensity and were aggressive," Warren said.

His head coach says that's the edge this Ole Miss team has to play with to win. After several games without it, they found it again in this one and it showed.

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