Looking back, ahead in the NIT

Eniel Polynice said he doesn't believe Kenny Williams was ever recruited as a tight end.

"There's no way. We don't believe that," joked the sophomore guard who was on the throwing end of a lengthy lob pass to the senior forward whose layup would have beaten Nebraska in regulation had he made it. "He didn't get recruited to play tight end. I don't know what to tell him anymore. I'll just let it go since we got the win."

Williams almost played football at Auburn. But instead of being a collegiate tight end, he went the juco route to play basketball. Then he came to Ole Miss for two seasons.

With Monday night's game tied 70-70 and half a second showing on the clock, Williams momentarily fumbled the pass from Polynice and the shot was off its mark. In overtime the Rebels rolled to an 85-75 win.

"He really helped us again tonight," said Polynice, all joking aside, "and that's all we can ask for."

Williams admitted he should have caught it and made it.

"I know that's going to be the first question," Williams, who had 14 points and nine rebounds, said. "I just fumbled it. I should have made the play. I'm glad we were able to overcome it in overtime."

With the win, Ole Miss improved to 23-10, the second most wins in a single season in program history. The 2000-01 team won 27 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen.

Polynice said he was going to play in the Nebraska game despite a knee injury that had bothered him for a few weeks and caused him to miss the UC Santa Barbara game. He had fluid drained from it last week.

"It hurt," he said of playing in the game against the Cornhuskers. "But that's what great players do, they fight through the pain. I just played hard and tried not to let my teammates down and make sure we didn't lose for the seniors."

Zach Graham had arguably his best game as a Rebel. Certainly he had his best five minutes so far. The freshman forward scored 14, with 10 coming in the overtime period. He was 5-of-7 from the floor, had three rebounds, an assist and a block.

"That's the Zach Graham we recruited," Andy Kennedy said. "We've seen glimpses of that. I hope we can see more of that Wednesday night and for the next three years. He's big and strong and explosive."

Graham said he just tries to contribute when called upon.

"We've been emphasizing finishing through contact, going to the hole strong, and making plays," said Graham, who had a number of plays that he did just that, making a move into traffic and scoring. "My game is to bring the ball to the hole and to bring energy to the floor."

Without a doubt he did that, and his future as a Rebel appears brighter than ever.

Ole Miss now plays at Virginia Tech Wednesday night. The Hokies are the No. 1 seed in the bracket and have not been challenged in two home wins over Morgan State 94-62 and UAB 75-49.

With the win over UAB, Virginia Tech is now 21-13 overall and won for the seventh time in its past nine games. The Hokies, who have never lost an NIT home game in 10 tipoffs, advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT for the fifth time in the program's history.

"I told them before the game that we're a team without gimmicks," Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said in a story on VaTech's sports website. "We are who we are. We're a team that checks you and rebounds and tries to get out and run and get easy baskets. We're not very tricky. That's who we are. As long as we're poised and confident, that's all I want us to be."

Virginia Tech eliminated Ole Miss from the 1982 NIT with a second-round 61-59 win in Oxford. It was the last game for head coach Bob Weltlich at Ole Miss. He took the Texas head coaching job in the days that followed. The Rebs had won 53-49 at Clemson to be able to host the Hokies.

In this year's ACC Tournament, Tech lost 68-66 to top-ranked North Carolina in their second game.

"You have to play well at this level at this time of the season," Greenburg said. "You can't have a bad game or you're going home. I like the way we're playing. I think we're playing with a lot of confidence, which I want them to play with. I think we're playing with a lot of trust. Our roles are well-defined and I think we're competing at a pretty high level. We're getting contributions from a lot of different guys.

"We've got some guys seeing very big baskets right now," Greenberg continued. "We're playing with great energy and getting contributions from a lot of different guys. That makes it fun."


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