OXFORD – No. 14-ranked Ole Miss avoided the look-ahead temptation and handled Central Florida with ease in its final non-conference game Tuesday night.
The Rebels hit 17 of their first 23 field goal attempts and were never threatened in an 84-56 win before a crowd of 5,538 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
The Rebels open SEC play at home Saturday afternoon at 12:30 against rival Mississippi State. The two teams split last year’s games, each winning at the other’s place.
Terrico White finished with 21 points, Eniel Polynice with 16 and Chris Warren with 14.
“No, we weren’t looking ahead,” Polynice said. “We wanted to come out and do what we usually do, then come back tomorrow, watch film and get ready for Mississippi State.”
Warren’s eighth point gave him 1,000 for his Ole Miss career in just over two full seasons.
UCF had two players in double-figures including Marcus Jordan, a freshman from Forest Park, Ill., and the son of Michael Jordan. He had 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy wasn’t expecting his team to look ahead.
“But anything is possible with this group. Everybody wants to talk about the SEC except us coaches, because we live in a world of paranoia,” he said. “We try to live in the moment, and we just wanted to get ready for the next game.”
The Rebels (12-2) hit their shots but also set an early defensive tone.
UCF shot just 33.9 percent from the field and was 0-for-11 from 3-point range.
The Rebels were up 46-24 at halftime, and their lead peaked at 28 with 6 minutes, 4 seconds remaining.
UCF had already beaten an SEC team, winning 84-74 against Auburn on Nov. 20 in a neutral-site game. The Golden Knights (8-6) were competitive at No. 14 U Conn, losing 60-51.
UCF played zone almost the entire game, an approach that has given the Rebels problems at times this season.
Kennedy credited Polynice, who had a game-high five assists, for helping Ole Miss start strong.
“We came out with great energy, and that’s all facilitated by EP. When he drives with purpose, we’re a difficult team to defend.”
Center Murphy Holloway posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Ole Miss had a 46-35 edge on the glass.
Kennedy had challenged his wings to be more effective rebounders. The Rebels have been beaten decisively on the glass in their two losses, but got good production from several spots Tuesday in addition to Holloway.
DeAundre Cranston had seven rebounds, almost doubling his average, and Terrance Henry had an active stat line with nine points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots.
While Polynice wasn’t looking ahead, Warren was … but just a little.
“Yeah, but that’s our rival. We always look forward to playing them like they look forward to playing us,” he said.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal