Back in the 'W' column

Ole Miss bounced back from its loss at New Mexico and made some improvement along the way in an 85-81 victory against Alabama State Monday night in Oxford.

"Every win's a good one," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "You're not always pleased with the way you play, but we're not going to give any back. So I'm pleased that we won. There are some areas we have to address and address quickly."

It's been the recurring theme for much of the early portion of the 2008-09 season for this Ole Miss team.

The Rebels, now 7-3 on the year, trailed much of the game, including 41-36 at halftime. The Alabama State lead was as large as eight points in the first half and seven in the second half.

The Rebels fought back to tie it at 51-51 on two Chris Warren free throws with 14:46 to go in the contest. But there was still a lot of work left to do before the Rebels could claim victory in this one.

Warren broke a 67-67 tie with a 3-point shot at the 6:17 mark to put his team up 70-67, and the Rebs never trailed again.

Andrew Hayles for the Hornets was good on a 3-pointer with 1:14 left to pull his team to within a point at 78-77. But a David Huertas trey all but sealed it for Ole Miss with 20 seconds to go to give UM an 84-79 edge.

The Hornets, 1-6 on the year and defending SWAC champions, blistered the nets, shooting 57 percent (33-of-58) for the game. It's a trend Kennedy isn't fond of but understands.

"When teams continually shoot high numbers on you, it tells you something," he said. "And I know what it's telling us. It's telling us we're reactionary. I thought at the end they hit some pretty big shots. Our post defense was obviously very suspect. They had one kid (Roland Fitch) who went 10-for-11 (made his first 10 shots before missing), which then draws a lot of attention to that kid. They were kicking it out. No. 2 (Andrew Hayles) was the player of the year in their league (last year). So he's a pretty good player. He hit some hard shots at the end to keep them close."

Indeed he did, and it was close throughout. Not necessarily the way Kennedy would have drawn it up. But, as he said, he'll take it.

"They're a senior-laden team," he said. "They have some transfers. They've played everybody close with the exception of Nebraska (a 29-point loss). They're a tough team and will do very, very well in their league. I was hoping to put a little separation, but we couldn't do that. They kept making big, big shots."

But it remains all about his team, who has its biggest challenge to date Thursday night against top 10 Louisville in Cincinnati in the SEC-Big East Showdown on ESPN.

"We've got a lot of work to do, but I did see some positives tonight," he said. "Malcolm White finally came to play. We got on the offensive glass a little bit. We finally outrebounded someone. Our 17 offensive rebounds (to ASU's 11 offensive boards) were obviously the difference in the game. We've lost other games because we did not defensive rebound. Tonight we won because we offensive rebound, so that's a positive."

Huertas had 25 points, while Warren had 16 and Murphy Holloway 15. Malcolm White scored 12 and also had nine rebounds. The Rebels took care of the basketball with only six turnovers.

ASU was led by 22 points from Fitch, with Hayles adding 17.

The Rebels had a slight edge on the boards overall 30 to 29. But again, as Kennedy said, at this point he'll take it.

"We had a hard time defending. Allowing 81 points is unacceptable. We score 85 and shoot 55 percent in the second half. We made some big shots. David (Huertas) made some big shots. Chris (Warren) made some big plays. We're used to that. What we're not used to is Malcolm (White) making a big (basket) and-one at the end (with a minute to go on a slam dunk and free throw to give UM an 81-77 lead). That's going to do wonders for his confidence, I hope.

"Murphy Holloway had a big putback. Terrance Henry gave us some big minutes. Those are the things hopefully we can build on, because obviously Chris and David are going to need some help if we're going to be a quality team."

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