By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
ATLANTA – Ole Miss seniors Chris Warren and Zach Graham have never put their emotions on display, and they didn’t start Thursday afternoon when they finally picked up a win in the SEC tournament.
So how does it feel?
“It feels kind of regular,” Warren said. “Now we look forward to winning our next game. We have to win three more.”
“It feels good to get past the first round, but our work isn’t done,” Graham said. “Now we have a big game against Kentucky.”
The Wildcats, the No. 2 team in the East, had a bye Thursday. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said playing in the first round – once you win – can be an advantage, “because now we’ve played a game in this building.”
Kentucky annually has huge fan support in this event, and a large number of Wildcats fans watched the Rebels and Gamecocks, though they never chose sides. That will change today.
“We know it will be a hostile crowd, but we’ve played in front of many hostile crowds, and we hope to use that to our advantage,” Warren said.
Kentucky went 10-6 in the SEC regular season, one of those losses coming 71-69 in Oxford on Feb. 1. Warren hit an NBA-range 3-pointer at the buzzer to win it for the Rebels.
Led by Terrence Jones’ 22 points, Kentucky got 57 points from three freshmen and little scoring from its upper classmen in the first meeting.
You know Buckner’s on …
– Sophomore forward Reggie Buckner this season was named the Rebels’ first member of the SEC’s all-defensive team, and he typically makes a big positive impact for Ole Miss when not in foul trouble.
Twenty times this year Buckner has either fouled out or had his playing time limited because of early fouls.
Buckner averages 23 minutes but played a career-high 34 against South Carolina.
“For Reg it’s really all about the first seven or eight minutes,” Kennedy said. “If he picks up two early fouls you have to get him out of the game. It gets him out of his rhythm.”
Buckner said many times this season foul trouble has come when he’s tried to block every shot he has a remote chance of reaching.
“I didn’t try to block everything today. I just jumped with my hands straight up. It felt good not to be in foul trouble,” Buckner said.
The Rebels’ win over Kentucky was another game in which post players Buckner and Terrance Henry excelled, and Ole Miss picked up a win.
Buckner played 32 minutes against the Wildcats, Henry 27, and both finished with 12 points and five rebound. They were a combined 11 for 17 from the floor.
Nelson’s hot start
– Warren finished with 20 points Thursday, but the Gamecocks were committed to not letting him go off like he did in Columbia. His start was slow, but freshman Dundrecous Nelson carried the torch in the first half, going 3 for 4 from 3-point range.
“Dreke kept us in it until the rest of the team came around,” Warren said.
Nelson cooled off considerably in the second half and finished 3 for 10 from the floor. He hit a late free throw to end up with 10 points, as Ole Miss placed four players in double figures.
– “We have to come out with mental toughness and focus. That’s the way we came out today. No matter what, we were going to win this game.” – Ole Miss forward Terrance Henry on what the post players need to do to become more consistent.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600