Calling on Reggie

In late January, Ole Miss made a routine trip to Auburn.

The Rebels were fresh off a two-game SEC win streak, including a tightly contested, albeit successful, visit to Baton Rouge to take on rival LSU five days prior.

Drama wasn't lacking that fateful Thursday on the Plains. The game's outcome remained undecided until late in the second half, but Ole Miss eventually finished it out, 84-74.

While brief, most wins trigger a celebrated locker room. Teams are forced to move forward quickly. Usually another league contest looms days away.

Not this time.

Freshman forward Reginald Buckner, who was coming into his own as a consistent low-post presence, had succumbed to an ankle injury against the Tigers. His future status was unknown. All involved feared the worst, initially.

Buckner had been caught on camera grimacing as he grasped his leg in pain late in the second half. Ankle injuries are tricky things.

However, the medical report was better than expected. The Memphis, Tenn. native was expected to return sooner rather than later. It was only a matter of days, not weeks.

Since then, though, four games have passed, with three losses. The Rebels' lone win came in thrilling fashion, a 23-point comeback bid at home to Alabama.

Most will attribute the struggles to the unavailability of Buckner. During losses to Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi State, Ole Miss was taken to task in the paint.

Razorback forward Mike Washington had 22 points and 11 rebounds. Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins put on a show with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Bulldog senior Jarvis Varnado, the nation's second-leading shot blocker, added his 14th double-double.

Suffice to say, Ole Miss, now 17-7 overall and 5-5 in SEC play, needs the presence of Buckner. And quickly.

"We'll continue to fight. Our problem is we're so small," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We played four guards the majority of the second half (against Mississippi State). When we're so small, it puts a premium on making shots. It's who we are with that lineup. You've got to knock down those shots, especially on the road, for that lineup to work for you."

Those shots didn't fall in Starkville.

Ole Miss was 6-of-26 (23 percent) from 3-point range in a 71-63 loss to the in-state rival. Par for the course in Buckner's absence, the remaining Rebel frontcourt was in foul trouble, too.

Terrance Henry fouled out. Murphy Holloway, an undersized forward, chipped in with four. DeAundre Cranston, as usual, managed three.

"The lack of 20 to 22 minutes (Buckner) gives us, and he's been playing pretty productive, certainly hurt us. You couple that with foul trouble... we just can't overcome it. When you have that issue, it forces you to go small," Kennedy said.

With the bigs on the bench, Kennedy has implemented four guards, sometimes five, to adjust.

Some lineups include Chris Warren, Terrico White, Eniel Polynice, Zach Graham and one of the aforementioned post players – not a formula for success against bullish rebounding teams.

"We need him down low," Polynice said of Buckner. "He's a presence and a great basketball player. God willing, nobody else will get hurt. We need Reggie back to finish the season out strong."

The hope is for Buckner to return against Vanderbilt Thursday. He's no longer in a walking boot and, at least according to Kennedy, is moving better and walking some.

The problem has been Buckner's lateral movement. He's still limited in that area, but a week between games should allow more cushion for rehabilitation.

There was "no temptation" on Kennedy's part to play the freshman against Mississippi State. He had yet to be cleared by doctors.

"We desperately need him," Kennedy said postgame in Starkivlle.

No kidding.

"We could not suffer injuries with our depth (in the post)," Polynice said. "I don't want to jinx anybody. I just hope everybody stays healthy and everybody gets cleared, so we can go get these remaining home games."

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