Buckner’s rise inside boosts Rebels’ hopes

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – As the light comes on for Reggie Buckner, there are glowing possibilities for Ole Miss basketball.
While the Rebels struggle on the defensive end of the floor – 11th in the SEC in field goal defense, last in 3-point field goal defense – Buckner is helping his team find a niche.
It’s getting tough to score on the Rebels inside.
“His focus has never been better. He’s been able to stay on the floor longer. His awareness has been better, and as a result, his timing and conditioning have improved,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
The Rebels, coming off back-to-back SEC wins for the first time this season, are back in action Wednesday night at 8 at Tad Smith Coliseum against LSU, which has lost its last six games.
“There’s a lot of responsibility on Reg, and sometimes we forget he’s still a 19-year-old sophomore trying to figure things out,” Kennedy said.
The educational process has included an increased understanding of defensive positioning and improved timing, allowing Buckner to space out his fouls and spend less time on the bench.
Bucker, a 6-9, 238-pound Memphis native, has fouled out of six games this year. Ten other times, including the last four games, he’s picked up four fouls, reaching the brink of fouling out.
But whereas Buckner played just 23 minutes against Georgia and less than 20 against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt – three Ole Miss defeats – he’s averaged 29 minutes over the last four games, three of them wins. He played 32 minutes in the Rebels’ upset win against Kentucky, his SEC high for the season.
“Great shot-blockers have an innate ability, something they’re born with, to be in the right position,” Kennedy said. “He’s become more resilient. He’s not giving in as quickly, and as a result our team has new-found life.”
Buckner’s eight blocked shots against the Razorbacks not only tied Ansu Sesay’s single-game record but also moved Buckner past Rahim Lockhart into sole possession of second place on the career list.
In less than two full seasons Buckner had 136 blocked shots, trailing only Sean Murphy, who compiled 180 blocks in 117 games from 1988-1991.
Buckner has 72 blocks on the season, passing the record of 64 he set as a freshman last year.
With 3.3 blocks per game, he’s third in the SEC but gaining on leaders Delvon Johnson of Arkansas and Sam Muldrow of South Carolina.
While Buckner put on a clinic in Fayetteville, Johnson had two blocks in 25 minutes.
“We tried to go at him a little bit. From a help defender situation he was tremendous. His shot-blocking was late. It was almost at the last second when you thought you had a bucket, but he was able to step in and get it,” Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said.

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@journalinc.com.