By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Chris Warren has a long way to go to reach the NCAA tournament, but he’s not done yet in the SEC.
Warren and Zach Graham, seniors and career thousand-point scorers, picked up an SEC tournament victory in their last chance as Ole Miss defeated South Carolina 66-55 in the second of four opening-day games at the Georgia Dome.
“Our execution left something to be desired, but our effort was tremendous,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “I’m proud of our guys.”
The Rebels (20-12) advance in the SEC tournament for the first time since 2007, Kennedy’s first season. They face No. 15 Kentucky at 2:30 p.m., today.
The seniors can thank their post players for getting them over the hump. Terrance Henry and Reggie Buckner combined for 24 points and 19 rebounds.
Buckner, who has reached at least four fouls 20 times this season with 10 foulouts, played a career-high 34 minutes.
Henry had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Buckner finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
Henry said he and Buckner hear negative talk about the Rebels’ post play and were determined to atone for a sub-standard performance in a 79-73 loss in Columbia when neither reached double figures, and Warren carried the loaded with 33 points.
“We listen to it. We try not to let it sit in our heads and fog our minds,” Henry said. “We know we played bad at South Carolina, and me and Reg talked. We wanted to come out and do it for Zach and Chris. We wanted to give it all we’ve got and see where we can go with it.”
With the post helping set a tone, Warren took matters into his own hands with big plays down the stretch.
South Carolina cut a 16-point first-half deficit to four at the intermission, but the Rebels started the second half on an 11-1 run and led 62-46 when Warren hit a floater in the lane with 4 minutes, 19 seconds to play.
The Gamecocks (14-16) got a couple of quick 3-pointers from Ramon Galloway to draw to 62-55 with 1:23 left, but a team that hit just eight of 29 3-point shots for the game was not built for a magical March moment.
Apparently Kennedy realized this. Ole Miss went zone from the outset and rarely strayed.
“With (Malik) Cooke and Lakeem Jackson they really are so big it’s impossible for us to match up. We made the decision to go zone early,” he said.
Ole Miss held the Gamecocks to 29.9 percent shooting. Unable to get inside the Rebels’ 2-3 with regularity, South Carolina attempted 30 3-point shots – making only eight – nine more attempts than their season average.
South Carolina’s two most dependable post scorers, Cooke and Sam Muldrow, were a combined 7 for 25 from the floor.
“They’re length and offensive rebounding really kept them in the game in the first half,” Kennedy said.
The Gamecocks had 12 offensive rebounds and a plus-seven margin on the boards in the first 20 minutes. By the end of the game each team had 43 rebounds.
Warren played 40 minutes and finished with 20 points on 7 for 16 shooting. It was a different type of success against the Gamecocks. In Columbia he attempted only two shots inside the 3-point line. In the rematch he got to the rim, going 4 for 9 inside the arc.
He also had four assists.
“We started out in the zone, because we had to be aware of where he was,” South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said. “At the end of the day we didn’t get enough stops. He made huge plays, and that’s what all-conference players do.”