Clashed on the Coast

Things were oh so close, and then came the second half. Ole Miss, down one point at intermission, lost by 19 to Southern Mississippi as the Golden Eagles came out rolling after the break.

A 78-59 final score was deceiving. Or was it the slim lead of 38-37 USM held at halftime that was more deceptive.

It wasn't necessarily a tale of two halves. Southern Miss was better both halves. It was just much better in the second one.

There's a good chance there will be more days like this one as the Rebels, now 8-5, head toward Southeastern Conference play. There's one game left before then, a Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. date in Oxford with Nicholls State. Then there's a week off before heading to Florida for the league opener.

The Rebels will need every bit of that time to try to improve. It's certainly a limited state of affairs that Andy Kennedy and his staff have been presented with. Tough as things are, the Rebels continue to move forward without Chris Warren, Eniel Polynice, and Trevor Gaskins.

Their absence is being felt as is the fact that the Rebels are getting beaten up pretty good physically. It showed up against New Mexico. It showed up against Southern Mississippi. Both were lopsided losses, and Kennedy knows these type opponents are in the Rebels' future.

"There are two games we've been physically whipped," he said of those two December contests. "The competition's going to keep coming."

Indeed that is the case. Rebounding disparity continues to be a major problem. It would have been anyway given that the replacements for Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams, and Jermey Parnell have not yet filled their shoes.

But the fact that the strength of the team was going to be its backcourt, and then those three key players are lost for the season before the season hardly begins...well, you get the picture. You know the picture.

Junior guard David Huertas continues to carry the load and is probably trying too hard to shoulder all of it. USM, now 9-4, had five players in double figures; as a matter of fact, all five of its starters. Huertas was the lone Rebel to reach that mark with 23.

"David has the weight of the world on his shoulders," Kennedy said. "We've got to settle him down and get him some help."

There was no help in the second half. After the Golden Eagles scored the first 14 points following intermission to move from the one-point advantage to a 52-37 lead, a comeback by Ole Miss was going to be a major task.

The Rebels shot 18 percent in the second half, only 4-for-22. That type number will result in a losing cause every time.

"They came out and hit us right from the jump (in the second half)," Kennedy said. "Defensively we had some breakdowns. The biggest statistic was 17 offensive rebounds (for USM and only eight for UM). They outscrapped us on the glass."

On the boards against the Golden Eagles, the Rebels were beaten 50-28. USM had only one starter taller than 6-foot-3. This was not Tennessee or Florida or LSU.

But the hand the Rebs have been dealt is what it is.

"This is an unusual year," Kennedy said. "The nine guys we played tonight are the nine guys we'll play Saturday (against Nicholls State). They're the same guys we'll play the next game after that. We don't have replacements."

Last season they did. Ole Miss won this game in Southaven a year ago by an almost identical margin - 78-58. The Rebels now lead the all-time series 16-5.

As one would expect, Kennedy vows to press on with more than half the regular season still left to play.

"There's a very fine line with where we are, and it limits you," he said. "I'm not giving into this. We're not giving into this. We've got to get guys some game experience. And then they have to go out and do their jobs."

That would have been easier with the three who are injured. The way things are, with the hand they've been dealt, Tuesday night on the shores of the Mississippi Sound could be an unfortunate sign of more to come.

Hopefully for all concerned that is not the case.

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