By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss got by with a little help from Chris Warren’s friends, but Warren was still the man at crunch time.
After No. 10 Kentucky wiped out an 11-point second-half lead, Warren’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 2.9 seconds left rallied the Rebels to a 71-69 win Tuesday, their first against a top 10 opponent since beating No. 6 Alabama in 2002.
A Tad Smith Coliseum crowd of 8,243, many wearing donated “red out night” t-shirts, watched the Rebels weather two Kentucky runs in the second half, the second as the Wildcats came all the way back from a 9-point deficit with 6 minutes, 31 seconds left to lead 69-68 on two free throws by freshman Terrence Jones with 1:21 remaining.
It is the first SEC home win of the season after losses to Mississippi State, Georgia and Tennessee.
“For them to get the lead and us to respond … that’s a positive thing for me as a coach,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “It tells me we still have fight left.”
Unlike in Saturday’s 74-57 loss to Tennessee, Warren wasn’t the only one throwing punches.
His supporting cast placed three players in double figures, led by Zach Graham’s 16 points. Post players Terrance Henry and Reggie Buckner turned in 12 each.
While the Wildcats (16-5, 4-3 SEC) still shot a healthy 49 percent, there were improved defensive possessions for Ole Miss (14-8, 2-5), which forced 18 turnovers – a season-high for Kentucky – and got five blocked shots from Buckner, the last resulting in a fastbreak bucket by Henry at the other end. That gave the Rebels a 66-59 lead with 3:31 remaining.
Warren scored on a reverse layup for a 68-65 lead with 2:19 left, what would have been the Rebels’ final points had he not spun away from two defenders to take the in-bounds pass from Graham.
“It was almost a turnover. Thank God it wasn’t,” Warren said. “It felt good, and from my angle it looked good,” he said. “It was a big shot, and hopefully there are many more to come.”
Once he established possession, Warren bounced off light contact, moved left and hit the shot.
“The kid hit a tough shot. You have to give him credit,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Give Ole Miss credit. They battled us and wanted it worse than we did.”
Calipari said his team, which led 35-34 at halftime, faced the second-half deficit because too often it settled for “hero shots” instead of attacking the rim.
That changed after Henry’s shot when Jones scored on Buckner and converted a three-point play, then the Wildcats got a stop followed by a 3-pointer from Doron Lamb to make it a 66-65 game.
Roughly 80 seconds later Jones’ free throws had Kentucky in the lead. The Wildcats had a chance to stretch a 69-68 advantage but couldn’t get off a shot. The resulting clock violation set the stage for the Rebels’ last chance.
Warren got the in-bounds pass and got it across half-court and called time with 10.1 seconds to play.
Warren finished the game 9 for 15 from the floor, 4 for 7 from 3-point range.
“With 10 seconds left you don’t want to get too complicated,” Kennedy said. “We wanted to give him an angle and a clean look at the basket. Sometimes it goes, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s our best option.”
That’s even true when the supporting cast has his back.
“I didn’t want him to pass it,” Buckner said. “The whole team wanted Chris to shoot it.”