By Jeff Roberson/Special to the Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss guard Chris Warren put his team on his back, and the Rebels rode him to a 68-60 victory against Arkansas State in the season opener.
The Rebels trailed much of the contest until midway through the second half when the senior from Orlando appeared to decide enough was enough.
“You have to use what’s working, and not a lot was working for us offensively,” Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. “Chris Warren’s our best player, so we wanted to put the ball in his hand. I thought they (Red Wolves) got a little tired, so we just wanted to set some high ball screens and see if he could get in there and create some action. Good things happen when Chris has the ball.”
The Orlando native wound up with 26 points, shooting 9 for 15 from the floor and 7 for 7 at the free throw line.
“There was no way I was going to let our team lose this first game,” Warren said – his team trailed 32-24 at halftime. “I just had to talk to my team and said we have to get it right. We came out more alert in the second half.”
Certainly Warren did. ASU Coach John Brady said while Warren was a huge key to the Rebs’ win, there was another factor in his team’s loss.
“Chris Warren made some plays, obviously, but I think the real difference in the second half was we gave them too many offensive rebounds,” Brady said.
Ole Miss outrebounded Arkansas State 38-31 including 14-9 on the offensive boards.
The Red Wolves led 28-17 early on a 3-point basket by Donald Boone. Arkansas State was able to keep the lead the rest of the half.
Ole Miss shot just 33 percent in the first half and was only 1 for 9 from 3-point range (11 percent). ASU wasn’t much better at 38 percent from the floor through 20 minutes.
The second half was a much different story as the Rebels shot 53 percent. Ole Miss closed the gap in a hurry. But the Rebs still couldn’t regain the lead they lost early in the first half until the 11:49 mark on a Trevor Gaskins putback of a Demarco Cox miss for a 41-40 advantage.
It was Warren who helped stretch that lead. The All-SEC first-team candidate grabbed a rebound and raced the length of the court to give Ole Miss a 54-50 lead. After his Gaskins made a free throw and missed one, Warren nailed a 3-pointer on the Rebs’ next possession for a 58-50 lead with 4:30 left. The Rebels hung on the rest of the way, with a slam by Warren the final points of the contest.