Back to Work

Andy Kennedy was a man of few words after his Ole Miss Rebels beat Morgan State 78-70. His team is now 5-1 but more difficult games are on the immediate horizon.

Like West Virginia Wednesday night in Oxford.

On Saturday afternoon the Rebels struggled much of the way and eventually pulled away in the second half to get the eight-point victory.

This one was behind them, but what Kennedy did say, or didn't say, spoke volumes.

"We've got a lot of work to do," said Kennedy, watching a team that's still trying to cope with the loss of an experienced starting guard (Eniel Polynice) and an experienced backup guard (Trevor Gaskins) while it's big men, mostly new, try to find their way.

It's the big men that seem to be giving Kennedy more fits than anything else, which might have been expected given the three departures from last season.

The Rebels got beat on the boards by a veteran team in Morgan State, which started three seniors and a junior among its starting five and won 22 games last season. The Bears claimed 43 total boards to the Rebels' 35, including an edge to the visitors in offensive rebounds 22 to 8. That last stat seemed to trouble Kennedy the most and also appeared to be the one that, had it been reversed, then the final score would have been more one-sided.

"Our first-shot defense is pretty good, actually as good as it's been since I've been here," he said. "We put good pressure on the ball. We contest shots. It's the offensive rebounds that are killing us. We gave up 21 offensive rebounds. We limit those and this is a 20-point game."

In his team's favor.

But as it stands, the Rebels are relying on two reliables – sophomore point guard Chris Warren and junior guard David Huertas. Warren scored 25 and Huertas 22 in this one.

"We've talked from day one about finding a third scorer," Kennedy said. "David and Chris keep carrying us offensively. Until we find a third scorer, there's going to be a lot of pressure on those two guys every night."

The Rebels trailed 34-32 at halftime, and Warren admitted the team didn't get after it early as they should have.

"All the games we start off slow," he said. "I don't really know the reason but it's probably mental more than physical. We're still trying to learn and put it together, and we've got a lot of young guys. But that's no excuse."

Perhaps those are reasons.

Warren also said he and Huertas would continue to do their part as they await more scoring from other players, and then they'll continue to do what they are doing to help the team.

"We've got guys that are going to continue to get better," he said. "We've got guys that were top recruits. They're capable of getting things going at any time. They're used to being good players, now they've just got a lot of other good players around them. On any given night, other guys will step up."

At the free throw line, all the Rebels appear to be stepping up. Once again they were stellar at the charity stripe, this time sinking 15-of-16.

"Thank goodness we make free throws," Kennedy said. "Our margin for error is such that we're really, really struggling to manufacture enough points."

Ole Miss moved out to a 10-point lead at 52-42 when Huertas scored on a layup with 14:21 to go. The lead was as much as 13 points twice, the last time at 76-63 on another Huertas layup with 2:22 left.

The Rebs once again improved their offensive production in the second half, shooting 62 percent after a 36 percent first half performance (49 percent for the game). They were 7-for-15 from 3-point range.

The Bears had four players in double figures led by Rogers Barnes and Reggie Holmes with 17 each.

Kennedy said his newcomers are making progress but at times it is a struggle.

"Two steps forward, two steps back," he said.

After this one, Kennedy said it's back to practice to get ready for the next challenge and those beyond.

"We go back to work tomorrow," he said, with few words again on this day. "That's what we do. Go back to work."

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