The Rebels had lost their first game of the season Friday night in this tournament to Utah 83-72. Winning at least one game in the event was almost imperative for the young team.
"We knew it would be a hard-fought game," the third-year UM head coach said after his team failed time after time in the second half to take a lead but finally did so late. "I hope our team learned some things. We play so many freshmen, they're still learning. I hope we can take some things from this game and improve. I'm proud of them for grinding it out and coming through with the win."
The Thundering Herd led 46-42 at halftime, and a better defensive effort from the Rebels in the second half paid off as Ole Miss outscored Marshall 40-32 the final 20 minutes. But it was the last third or so of the second half that pleased Kennedy the most.
"The last eight minutes our guys really played with a sense of urgency," he said. "I thought Marshall played a tremendous game and was more aggressive than we were – until those last eight minutes."
And that's when Ole Miss finally got over the proverbial hump. The Rebels never trailed by more than six points in the second half. But several times the game was tied or the Rebs were one or two points behind and with basketball possession and simply could not get points.
Until a huge 3-pointer by David Huertas with an assist from Chris Warren broke yet another tie and gave Ole Miss a 75-72 lead with just under two minutes remaining. The Rebels never trailed again, nor was the game tied again from that moment.
"Our guys were resilient, most especially Chris and David," Kennedy said.
Warren led all scorers with a career-high 28 points, including five points in the game's final 43 seconds. Warren made 9-of-17 shots from the floor in the contest and was good on 8-of-9 free throws. He also had four assists and three steals. Huertas scored 21 points for the Rebels, now 3-1 on the season.
Shaquille Johnson scored 15 points to lead Marshall, now 1-3 on the year. The Herd also got 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting by Marcus Goode. Tyler Wilkerson had 12 points and 14 rebounds, and Markel Humphrey added 11 points and nine rebounds.
Marshall outrebounded Ole Miss 43-31. But the Rebels were still able to overcome a tough, hard-nosed, focused opponent to bring home a win. It was a good experience for the newcomers to the program, according to Kennedy.
"I think until they're in a pressure-paced situation like tonight, you don't know how they're going to respond," he said. "It is an incredible learning opportunity for our new guys. And we needed veterans like Chris (Warren) and David (Huertas) to step up, and that's what they did."
The Rebels are playing without sophomore guard Trevor Gaskins and junior guard Eniel Polynice, who are out for the season with knee surgeries. Freshman guard Terrico White injured his right wrist during Sunday's game and will be evaluated further on Monday.
Ole Miss hosts Central Florida Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Warren, Huertas combine for 49 in UM win
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