Ole Miss trailed 38-35 at halftime but came out draining three-pointers and rolled to a 102-62 win Friday night against Auburn-Montgomery. It was a game that didn't count in the standings.
Starting Friday vs. Arkansas-Little Rock, they all do.
"As a team we already knew what we had to do," junior point guard Chris Warren, who paced his team with 22 points, said of any halftime adjustments the Rebels might have made or even talked about against the Senators. "It was just a matter of us executing that."
Execute they did as the Rebels shot a blazing 68 percent from the floor after intermission (23-of-34), including 71 percent from 3-point range (10-of-14).
But it wasn't just making shots that was the difference, according to UM head coach Andy Kennedy. All 14 players saw action, some late when the outcome was already decided. That many participating in a game won't likely be the case very often.
"I played nine or ten guys in the first half, which is unrealistic," Kennedy said. "Honestly we didn't do a lot offensively. We didn't want to show a lot. We just wanted to kind of play and space and play the game of basketball like it's supposed to be played.
"Sometimes (players) base their performance on making shots," he continued. "When you're not making shots, it tends to carry over to other parts of your game. That's something we addressed at the half. Our intensity was much better early in the second half. We got into a little better rhythm."
Kennedy said it was nice to see some old faces back out on the court for a live game, players who were injured last season and have returned 100 percent for this season.
"You go into it thinking you don't want to play guys heavy minutes," he said. "But at the same time, most especially the guys who haven't had the uniform on in quite some time, you want them to be able to get into a comfort zone. I thought we accomplished that. We got everybody an opportunity to play."
As for the new inside players, Reginald Buckner and DeAngelo Riley, Kennedy said the goal was to get them in among a large group of post players.
"We just wanted to get (Buckner) some touches close," he said of the 6-foot-8 freshman, who played 18 minutes, scoring four points with seven rebounds and two blocked shots. "He's a strong kid inside who had never played in a (college) game. We wanted to get him some touches close to show him what he needs to improve on.
"I told the team I thought the highlight of the game honestly was when he went in and tried to dunk it and the ball got rejected. That's a great learning point for him, that high school is over and everybody can play at this level."
Riley, a 6-9 junior transfer, didn't get into the game until the second half and wound up playing 10 minutes with a rebound and three points, all at the free throw line.
"He's trying to find his way," Kennedy said. "We played five or six post guys, and obviously you can't do that. There are a number of guys fighting for minutes, and we wanted to give everybody an opportunity to earn those minutes."
Trevor Gaskins hadn't played since the 2007-08 season ended in Madison Square Garden with a loss to Ohio State in the NIT semifinals.
Against AUM, the sophomore guard had 16 points in 17 minutes, including three baskets from 3-point range along with a couple of steals.
"He needed to get into a little bit of a rhythm," Kennedy said. "It's been a long time since he's been in a game. He was struggling with his shooting. He struggled with it in our scrimmage. I really feel he needed to give us a lift, and offensively he did. Defensively he's the best we have off the ball, and I thought his energy ignited us on that end."
Junior guard Eniel Polynice was another who hadn't seen action in a year. He appears to be back to his old form already.
"It felt great," he said of being on the court for a game again.
Polynice scored 15 points in 23 minutes, with seven rebounds, a block, an assist, and two steals.
"Guys seemed to be a little nervous the first half," Polynice said. "After that they just came out in the second half and played. We move on from here and look forward to the next game."
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