By Jeff Roberson / Special to the Journal
OXFORD – East Tennessee State had picked up a couple of quality road wins so far this season at Mississippi State and Dayton. But Saturday at Ole Miss, it didn’t come close.
The Rebels (7-2) won 71-50 behind Reginald Buckner’s best performance in an Ole Miss uniform. The 6-foot-9 sophomore center from Memphis had career highs in points (16), blocked shots (7), and minutes played (33).
“Reggie was good,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. “A couple of catches and putbacks, and he could have been even better.”
Buckner said he’s been working toward a more complete game, and he’s beginning to see that happen.
“I think it was my best game of the year so far,” said Buckner, who also had seven rebounds. “I rebounded, blocked shots, and scored. My hard work has paid off.”
Ole Miss jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the contest and never trailed. The Rebels’ first three baskets were 3-pointers – two by Chris Warren and one by Trevor Gaskins to make it 9-0, followed by two Buckner slams.
East Tennessee State (4-5) finally got on the scoreboard with 12:27 to go in the first half on a Mike Smith basket and foul. His free throw was good, and the Ole Miss advantage was cut to 13-3.
The Buccaneers, who have made the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, continued to hang around, even when Ole Miss made a run.
The Rebels’ lead was only five points when Dundrecous Nelson’s 3-pointer pushed it back out for Ole Miss to a 20-12 margin with 9:30 to go in the opening half.
The Rebels led 31-20 on a Warren 3-pointer, but East Tennessee got back to back 3-pointers from Justin Tubbs to cut the lead to 31-26. That margin was as close as the visitors would get.
Some hustle plays by the Rebels, claiming some turnovers and key rebounds, helped push the lead back out before halftime. A Terrance Henry slam accounted for the final points of the first half, and the lead was 40-26 at intermission.
Ole Miss continued to maintain a double-digit advantage in the second half. It reached 20 points when Warren nailed a 3-pointer at 56-36 with 6:45 to go. The Rebels’ largest lead of the game was 22 points (71-49) on a 3-pointer by Zach Graham with 25.4 seconds to go.
Ole Miss was paced by Warren with 22 points. Smith led the Bucs with 18.
“It was a quality win against a quality team,” Kennedy said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge. I thought we accepted that.”
The two teams could actually meet again within a week. Both are in the Cancun Governor’s Cup Tournament along with six other teams.
The Rebels also could face another team they’ve already played in the event. Southern Mississippi is also in the field. The Rebels defeated the Golden Eagles 86-81 on Dec. 4.
n Game summary, Page 2B