By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
ATHENS, Ga. – Sometimes in the midst of a team game you have to do your own thing.
Junior guard Eniel Polynice improvised Wednesday night and shocked the life out of Georgia with the winning basket in improbable fashion.
Ole Miss was nursing a two-point lead with 11.5 seconds remaining and had the ball beneath its basket when Polynice was left open so the Bulldogs could devote a double team to Terrico White. Polynice bounced the ball off the back of a Georgia player, then grabbed it and hit a layup to help No. 21 Ole Miss to an 80-76 SEC road win.
A Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 6,743 watched the teams swap leads four times within a minute before the Rebels (13-3, 1-1 SEC) Zach Graham’s drive to the hoop with 5 minutes, 7 seconds to play.
Graham followed with a 3-pointer on the Rebels’ next possession, and Ole Miss would score only one more field goal before Polynice rolled the dice.
“Basketball’s about taking chances, and you can’t look back with regrets,” he said.
Certainly there were none for the Rebels as Georgia burned off the remaining time.
The play is something the Ole Miss coaches talked about with their headier players, but it wasn’t something they drew up during the timeout.
“We talk about everything, but that’s not something we practice,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘You have to be kidding me.’”When Eniel saw they were face-guarding Terrico he made a huge play.”
The huge plays were balanced out for the Rebels. Kennedy used nine players, and each one scored at least six points.
Chris Warren led four players in double-figures with 12.
Georgia (8-7, 0-2 SEC) presented a big frontcourt, but the Rebels were able to get inside with great efficiency. They made 16 of their 26 free throw attempts, and that was enough to off-set 34 trips to the line and 23 free throws by the Bulldogs.
Ole Miss was 8-for-18 from 3-pointe range, though not from the usual sources. Warren was 3-for-7, but White was 0-for-4. The slack was pulled by Trevor Gaskins, an Atlanta-area native who was 3-for-3 behind the arc against the Bulldogs.
Georgia forward Trey Thompkins had a game-high 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Thirteen of those came within the game’s first 10 minutes. The Rebels were beaten with numerous back door cuts early, losing Thompkins a couple of times in the process. They were able to amp up the defense, and there was minimal damage by Thompkins the rest of the way.
It was a 77-76 game with less than two minutes left when Thompkins was unable to score on DeAundre Cranston in the lane.
First-year Georgia coach Mark Fox said his team was unable to put its close loss at Kentucky to bed.
“I thought we had an emotional hangover,” he said. “I thought we were dealing with emotional fatigue in the early part of the ballgame. We got some energy back and made it a battle, but we had a terrible time guarding them.”
Kennedy downplayed the importance of the first road game on the heels of an early home loss.
“This was huge. It gets us back in the game,” he said. “We just lost one at home, and it’s well-documented how tough it is to win on the road.”