Entering the 2009 season, Andy Kennedy probably envisioned there would be days like this.
Led by 52 combined points between guards Chris Warren and Terrico White, Ole Miss jumped ahead of a challenging Kansas State squad early and ran away, taking a physical 86-74 win Friday in the semifinals of the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-off.
With the win, the Rebels improve to 4-0 overall on the season, and will meet nationally ranked No. 6 Villanova in Sunday's championship game at 7 p.m.
"This was a great win for us against a very good opponent in Kansas State," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "It's a big step for our team. I was proud to see some guys step up. It was the first time Chris Warren has shot
the ball that well in a long, long time. It was great to see the old Chris Warren back."
Warren topped all scorers in the effort with 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field. The junior also dished four assists in 25 minutes of action. Following Warren in scoring was White with 25 points and six rebounds.
"We've got a deep and talented backcourt," said Kennedy. "We've got some depth. When Terrico and Chris are playing that well, obviously we are going to ride them. They kept making big play after big play for us."
In a highly contested matchup of two NCAA hopefuls, it was Ole Miss that raced out in front in the first half. The Rebels led 12-7 in the early going, but through turnovers and a 10-4 run by Kansas State, the Wildcats took a 17-16 edge with 9:11 left until intermission. Ole Miss committed nine turnovers in the first half, compared to four for Kansas State.
The Rebels were able to retake the lead on a 3-point make by White, which triggered a 13-6 spurt that saw Ole Miss hold the half's largest lead at 29-23. However, a 7-3 run in the waning minutes pulled the Wildcats within two, as the Rebels held a 32-30 advantage at the break.
Junior guard Eniel Polynice paced the team in the frame with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting from the field. Ole Miss shot 47.8 percent in the first half, while KSU shot 38.2 percent.
Both teams came out firing in the second, with KSU pulling within one at 36-35 on a Curtis Kelly two-pointer. But the Rebels would soon pull away, as a 15-2 run lasting 4:45 gave Ole Miss its largest lead at 51-37. Warren led the charge with six points, while senior DeAundre Cranston added four of his own in the stretch.
The Wildcats would get no closer than eight the rest of the way. Warren and White proved to be too much for KSU, the pair accounting for 38 of Ole Miss' 54 second half points. As a team, the Rebels shot 63 percent in the period.
"Honestly, we shot 63 percent in the second half. We didn't turn it over as much," Kennedy said. "In the first half, we were fairly efficient at about 48 percent, but we had nine of our 15 turnovers. We hadn't shot the ball well from the foul line (in the previous games), but tonight we did. As a
result, we were able to get 54 against a pretty good defensive team in the second half."
After totaling seven rebounds and a career-high 26 points against Indiana a day prior, sophomore forward Murphy Holloway chipped in 10 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds for the game. Polynice finished with 13 points, four rebounds and two assists.
The Rebels blocked seven shots in the game, with three coming by way of freshman forward Reginald Buckner. Buckner now has 16 total blocks in his first four games in Oxford.
Kansas State was led by Kelly, with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Kelly was followed by Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, each with 17 points.
Ole Miss shot 56 percent for the game to 43.8 percent for KSU. The teams were even on the boards with 29 apiece. The Rebels were 81.5 percent from the free throw line, including 16-of-17 in the second half.
"We're excited (to play Villanova)," said Kennedy. "I've got so much respect for Jay (Wright) and their program. They're a top-10 team. We came over with the hope of having an opportunity to play in the championship game. We're going to regroup, take a day to enjoy the island, then get our focus back on the task at hand."
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