Stepping Up

Ole Miss wrapped up a season-opening two-game homestand just like it started it – with a lopsided win over an outmanned visiting team.

There will be greater challenges this season than Arkansas-Little Rock and Alabama State. Those two teams were no match for the Rebels at home, falling 92-64 and 90-53 respectively.

The Rebels aren't clicking on all cylinders yet, but some positives stand out already. One is their health. After last season's injury-plagued campaign, the Rebs hope to stay healthy.

So far there has been only one injury that could be called significant, and that is 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Terrance Henry's hand. Kind of a freak accident, Henry fell down some steps last week and scrapped the skin off at least a portion of his hand. It was enough of a problem that he missed the first two games as it healed.

Obviously it sounds like it could have been worse. Coach Andy Kennedy said Henry should be ready to play against Indiana Thursday afternoon in the Rebels' first game in the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tipoff.

The guard play has been what you'd expect, led by all-stars Chris Warren, a junior, and Terrico White, a sophomore. Kennedy wanted to see more rebounding and production from the wings based on their size, and he got that in game two as sophomore Murphy Holloway got nine rebounds, junior Eniel Polynice eight boards, and junior Zach Graham scored 11 points, one of four players in double figures.

Lone senior DeAundre Cranston, at 6-foot-9, only scored six points and had no rebounds in 17 minutes against Alabama State. That was a far cry from his game against UALR when he led the team in scoring with 21 points and hauled down seven rebounds.

But when Cranston wasn't "on" other Rebels were. Newcomer Reginald Buckner, the 6-8 freshman from Memphis, scored seven points, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked five shots in 18 minutes. The future is bright for Buckner, and he is beginning to make an impact.

Buckner, who arrived with the reputation as a terrific shot-blocker, has nine blocks in two games. He works at it but it comes naturally.

"Timing," Buckner said. "Great timing. I practice on it, but really it's God-given talent."

Kennedy said basically the same thing.

"Reginald Buckner has blocked nine shots in limited action in two games," he said. "And that's his gift. He can really block shots. He's got to get in a little better shape so he's not fouling as much. But a lot of that is just getting acclimated to the pace of the game."

Same thing goes for 6-9 junior transfer DeAngelo Riley, who had four points, three rebounds, two blocks, and two steals against the Hornets Monday night, which was almost his exact same stat line from the opener vs. the Trojans - five points, three rebounds, a block, and two steals.

Kennedy said this particular team is built more for the type of defense he wants than any he's had at Ole Miss so far.

"The one thing we haven't had that this team has since I've been here is we can really pressure the basketball," said UM's fourth-year head coach. "We've got good length, good athleticism, depth. So we can really pressure people into not allowing the ball to turn easily. When that happens, you revert to driving the ball, and we've finally got a couple of guys that can block shots. I've been really pleased with the defensive effort in both games, save for some breakdowns at the end of the games, which happens sometimes when you have a comfortable margin."

Polynice said the Rebels' defense, which limited Alabama State to 29 percent shooting (18-of-63), has been a key to the wins so far.

"Our defense has been good. Extremely good," he said. "I think a couple of guys buying into the defense has made the whole team buy into the defense. It brings a lot of energy and makes guys play extremely hard. I think our defense is going to win us a lot of ballgames."

The Rebels and Hoosiers (2-0) tipoff at 4 p.m. Thursday (Oxford time), a game that will be televised on ESPN2.

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