You, Me and MSG

NEW YORK - Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy isn't fond of surprises.

Kennedy, who has led Ole Miss to two NIT Final Four appearances in four seasons as head coach, relishes in the routine. He lives by a set schedule – one his players have grown accustomed to over a 24-10 season.

So he knows what to expect when Ole Miss meets Dayton Tuesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 inside Madison Square Garden. Kennedy was the former interim head coach at Cincinnati. Basketball is passion in the Buckeye State.

The Flyers institute an up-tempo, frenetic style of play. Brian Gregory has led Dayton to a 23-12 overall record, with wins in four of its last five outings. The Flyers defeated Illinois, 77-71, to advance to the NIT semifinals.

Warren and Kennedy

"I really believe Dayton's playing as well as anybody in the country," Kennedy said. "They're a focused group. They've put the disappointment of not making the NCAA behind them, and they've embraced the NIT. Much like our group has."

Gregory's team finished 8-8 in the Atlantic 10, good for seventh place in the league standings. Dayton is making its 22nd NIT appearance, second-most among all schools.

"We just have to play," Kennedy said. "The team that wins will be the team that plays with the most energy and focus. You would hope when you get to this stage that you come out with some energy, and you've got to be focused."

The Rebels have won seven of their last eight contests. The glaring lights of Times Square, home of Ole Miss' team hotel in the Marriott Marquis, won't distract a focused team.

Ole Miss is making its ninth overall NIT appearance and third in the last four seasons. However, the Rebels are looking to advance to their first NIT championship game, as they return to the semifinals for the second time in the last three years.

Ole Miss made its first ever trip to New York City in 2008, losing to Ohio State.

Terrico White

"Anytime you play on the court you want to win," junior point guard Chris Warren said. "We've made it this far, and now we're just trying to win games."

Tuesday's winner will advance to meet the winner of North Carolina and Rhode Island in the NIT finals Thursday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

Warren, who enters the game with 1,357 career points, believes the Rebels' transition defense is key against such a frantic offense as Dayton.

"We have to come out fast and be ready to play," he said. "We can't get off to a slow start. We have to be ready to play at the 20-minute mark of the first half, and we'll be all right."

All A-10 forward Chris Wright leads Dayton with 13.8 points per game, 7.1 rebounds and 49 blocks. Chris Johnson is the only other Flyer who averages double figures with 11.5 points per game.

"We haven't seen them play a ton, just a couple times on TV," Wright said of Ole Miss. "We haven't really analyzed it. Our coaches watch more games than us. We just focus on the games they show us. We watch players individually and watch their tendencies. We watch what they do and have our game plan from there."

Regardless, Wright is sure to become much more familiar with a motivated Ole Miss squad when the teams tipoff today in the city that never sleeps.

"They're a good team," senior guard Marcus Johnson said. "Very athletic. They like to do the things we do. One of the big things coach talked about is their athleticism, getting on the glass and rebounding. We have to cut out and go to the glass hard."

Ole Miss and Dayton have met only once before, with the Flyers claiming a 72-70 home win in an early-season tournament in 1980. The Rebels own an 8-7 all-time record against current members of the Atlantic 10.

"You only have so many opportunities to compete for a championship," Kennedy said. "We certainly hope we can grow from the season. I'm proud we have found a way to win seven of our last eight.

"Now we want to take that next step."

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