HED:Ole Miss clobbers SW Mo.
By Gene Phelps
OXFORD – For Ole Miss, the path to New York and the National Invitation Tournament semifinals goes down Tobacco Road.
The rocketing Rebels blasted Southwest Missouri State 70-48 Tuesday night before an electrified crowd of 7,707 at Tad Smith Coliseum to advance to the NIT quarterfinals, where they’ll play North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C.
The quarterfinal game, whose winner advances to the tournament’s semifinals at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, is scheduled to be played Thursday. A game time for the SEC-ACC shootout is expected to be announced today.
“Our kids want to go to New York and play at Madison Square Garden,” Ole Miss second-year coach Rod Barnes said. “We want to go there (N.C. State) and give it our best shot and win the game.
“Our kids are playing well. Obviously, they (N.C. State) are playing well, but we’ve got confidence. I think our kids understand that we play in one of the toughest conferences in the country. We feel like we can play anybody in the country.”
North Carolina State (19-12) defeated Arizona State 60-57 Tuesday in Raleigh, ending hopes for a rematch between the Rebels (19-13) and their former coach, ASU’s Rob Evans.
It’s a rematch Barnes is glad he’s not a part of.
“I’d glad it’s over; I wish he (Evans) had won,” Barnes said. “We’re too close; we share too much. That’s something for the fans and the media.”
Ole Miss won its second straight NIT game the same way it beat North Carolina Charlotte, 62-45, in last week’s opening round – with smothering, in-your-face defense.
“These guys really are beginning to take pride in our defense,” Barnes said, then smiled. “They are figuring out that defense wins games for you.”
The Rebels limited the usually hot-shooting Bears to 39 percent from the field. The visitors, who came in averaging 45 percent from the field, connected on 16 of 41 field goal attempts and made just 2 of 10 3-point tries.
Southwest Missouri State’s top two scorers, Allen Phillips and Scott Brakebill, were held to seven points and four points, respectively.
“They are a notch above any team we have played all year,” Southwest Missouri State guard Kevin Ault said. “They really get after you. It was a struggle for us.”
Ole Miss also pounded the Bears on the boards, outrebounding them 41 to 30. Rebel forward Rahim Lockhart was a rebounding machine, pulling down 14 boards and scoring 13 points.
Forward Marcus Hicks added a team-high 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“We thought we could really get the ball inside,” Barnes said. “Marcus is so quick and Rahim is physical because of his size and strength.”
The Bears’ Brakebill agreed the Rebels were too strong and too athletic.
“They were one of the best defenses we’ve played,” he said. “They are a very physical team. We couldn’t block them out. When we did, they started hitting 3-pointers.”
Ole Miss raced to a 16-8 lead in the opening five minutes behind the hustle of guard Syniker Taylor, the shooting of Hicks and the brute force of Lockhart, who hauled down 11 first-half rebounds.
Hicks scored on a dunk, a layup and a 3-pointer to help the Rebels establish an early lead.
Taylor, who came over from the football team in time for squad’s Southeastern Conference season, was a highlight film early. On one play he blocked a shot attempt by Southwest Missouri’s Ault, then took a pass from Hicks for a layup. His baseline drive for a layup made it 16-8.
The Bears, down 16-12, had an opportunity to tie to score when Barnes was whistled for technical foul, but they missed the free throws and failed to score on their possession.
Ole Miss went on to build a 38-25 halftime lead. The Bears got no closer than 10 points in the second half, cutting the score to 49-39 with 12:25 left.
The Rebels responded to the charge with a 10-0 run to build a 59-39 lead.
For Ole Miss, Jason Harrison hit on three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points. Lataryl Williams added 10.
Eric Judd came of the bench to scored 12 points to lead Southwest Missouri State.