Challenging Contest

Ole Miss and Southern Mississippi battled until the horn sounded Saturday with the 7-1 Rebels emerging victorious against the 5-1 Golden Eagles.

The Rebs trailed much of the day before the game's last minute went entirely their way, ending in an 81-79 win. Offensive rhythm and flow for Ole Miss were lacking in the first half and even throughout much of the second. USM, however, shot 57 percent in the first half, most of them in the paint and a lot of them layups.

Southern continued to shoot the basketball well in the second half and finished the game at 53 percent.

Trailing by four at halftime, the Rebels finally caught up on a couple of Eniel Polynice free throws six minutes into the second half and led 49-48.

The Rebels appeared ready to pull away, leading 61-55, but that's when USM went on a 12-0 run. The Rebel guards, as expected, took over at that point. Chris Warren had three treys the last five minutes, two of them coming in the game's last 1:01. At the 2:26 mark, a Terrico White 3-pointer stopped some of the bleeding and cut a five-point USM lead to two at 73-71.

After the visitors stretched it out to 77-71, that's when the Rebels made their final 10-2 run to win it.

Warren was a huge part of the last offensive play of the game for the Rebels, sending a pass off a defensive rebound to Polynice who was headed goalward.

The junior veteran point guard was also key in what he said to his teammates.

"I had told the team in the timeout before to defend the rebound," Warren said. "So we defended well. They got the ball up on the rim. The ball got batted around, and I was in the midst. The ball happened to swing my way. I got it and pitched it ahead to EP."

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said Warren is valuable not only on the court but in the huddle.

"He's got a huge heart, and he's saying the right things in the huddle, and he's doing it the right way," Kennedy said. "Sometimes his execution doesn't match that, but overall I want that ball in his hands."

And what did he say in the huddle down the stretch in this one, according to his head coach?

"He just kept saying, ‘We're not going to lose. We're not going to lose. We're not going to lose at home.' And it was despite him not having a great day throughout the course of the game. And yet he's matured enough to lead this group, and that's what we desperately need. We need leadership, and we're starting to get some."

Warren finished with a team-high 20 points and six assists.

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Larry Eustachy had only good things to say about playing Ole Miss. The Southern Mississippi head coach gave props to the Rebels, specifically Kennedy, for scheduling the Golden Eagles.

Ole Miss and USM play in several sports, but haven't met in football since 1984. Mississippi State recently announced a couple of football games vs. Southern Miss in the future. The Bulldogs and USM haven't played football since 1990.

Eustachy wishes the Bulldogs would do the same as the Rebels have in men's basketball, mentioning that it's good for the sport in the state, and good for the fans.

"That was a heck of a game," the California native said, also mentioning that the instate aspect of it is good "for the spirit" of competition and building interest.

The sixth-year USM head coach also took a little jab in his opening remarks at MSU and head coach Rick Stansbury.

"Now if we could get Mississippi State to do it in basketball then that would be great," said Eustachy, a former Bulldog assistant coach in the 1980s. "But Andy seems to be a little more comfortable in himself than ole what's-his-name."

Eustachy also said Ole Miss is a team that will win a lot of games this season.

"I think they'll win their side of the conference," he said. "They've got a lot of talent and a great coach."

Eustachy said the Rebel backcourt is as good as any.

"Show me two better guards in the country," he said. "I'm a huge Terrico White fan, but Chris Warren makes that team go."

The series between Ole Miss and Southern Miss is scheduled to continue for at least the next couple of seasons. Kennedy said a highly-competitive game such as UM-USM is good this time of year.

"It's good for growth in your team early (in the season)," he said. "Obviously I'm glad that the growth came with a W. These games are very good for us; it's why we did this series. This Southern Miss team is very, very talented. They're going to win a lot of games. This game was good for us to learn, to make sure we come out with the right approach, and don't assume. It was an opportunity for us to move forward today as a team."

Ole Miss plays next on Saturday at 1 p.m., hosting McNeese State.

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