Fight to the Finish

Ole Miss trailed Southern Mississippi by six with 1:12 to go. The Rebels must have had the Golden Eagles right where they wanted them.

The Rebels rallied for an 81-79 heart-stopping win, outscoring the Golden Eagles 10-2 during that final 1:12 and escaping with what Eniel Polynice said was clearly not your average victory.

"This was big. A real big win," said the junior guard who was the recipient of a lengthy pass from Chris Warren that led to a dunk with 1.3 seconds left and put the Rebels up by the final margin. "We're trying not to lose any home games this season."

It appeared for much of this one that might not be the case. The Rebels trailed 36-32 at halftime, and only a Zach Graham 3-pointer right before the buzzer made it that close.

The Rebels (7-1) led 61-55 with just over nine minutes to go and looked to be in decent shape. But USM went on a 12-0 run to take a 67-61 lead. However during the run the Eagles' Angelo Johnson, who had scored 16 points, was whistled for his fifth foul.

Johnson, who had picked up his third foul earlier in the second half and also been called for a technical immediately thereafter, had been a catalyst for the Eagles in the contest. USM head coach Larry Eustachy said it was a key loss when Johnson went out.

"The technical was huge," Eustachy said. "Just something he said, and he'll learn from it."

Even after Johnson departed with 8:15 left, the Golden Eagles stayed in it. But Eustachy said he could feel things slipping away a bit for his ballclub.

Southern Miss (5-1) still maintained a lead and after Buchi Awaji made two free throws, USM was up 77-71 with 1:12 left. But that's when things went very right for the Rebels.

Polynice made two free throws to make it 77-73 with 1:01 to go. USM lost the ball on a five-second inbounds call, and the Rebels made them pay.

Graham got the ball in to Warren who immediately fired a 3-pointer to cut the USM lead to 77-76 with 59 seconds to go.

Awaji then scored on a layup with 51 seconds left to give his team a 79-76 edge, the last USM points of the day.

Another Warren 3-pointer tied the game with 40 seconds left. Southern Miss then worked the basketball down for what could not be a last-second shot since the game clock and shot clock were five seconds apart.

R.L. Horton took a shot from the left side of the lane with 11 seconds to go in the contest but missed. A couple of tips later and a batted ball out to Warren allowed the Rebel point guard to get the basketball out to a streaking Polynice who dunked for the lead.

With 1.3 seconds left, USM got the ball to midcourt and called a really quick timeout. With 1.1 seconds to go, Sai'Quon inbounded the ball on a cross-court heave, but the recipient, Awaji, landed out of bounds with it, ending the Golden Eagle's last hope for victory.

Warren's pass to Polynice for the final dunk had been a huge key to victory in this one, and the junior guard said it was all in the plan.

"I was just trying to make plays for the team," said Warren, who ended the game with 20 points to pace his team. "Today was my day to make a play."

But his head coach said he'll make some more of them, obviously.

"He's our guy and that's what we've come to expect," Andy Kennedy said.

Three Rebels scored 15 points – White, Graham, and Polynice. Murphy Holloway had 10.

Flowers led USM with 20. After Johnson's 16 were Horton with 10 and Maurice Bolden with 10.

Southern Miss shot 53 percent (32-60) to the Rebels' 46 percent (30-65). From 3-point range,

Ole Miss shot 44 percent (12-27) and the Eagles 50 percent (6-12). At the line UM was 9-14 and USM 9-12.

The rebounds wound up dead even at 35 apiece. USM had held a 19-15 board edge at intermission.

Kennedy said his team can continue to build on this.

"There are a lot of things we can learn from this one," he said. "Our team has not been in a tight situation such as that. All our victories have been double-figure victories. They made us find a way."

Ole Miss is in action again next Saturday at 1 p.m. in Oxford against McNeese State.

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