NIT:Rebels' focus: Crashing the glass

Thad Matta, far left, Ohio State men's basketball head coach, Andy Kennedy, second from left, Ole Miss men's basketball head coach, Travis Ford, second from right, University of Massachusetts men's basketball head coach, and Billy Donovan, far right, Florida men's basketball head coach, meet before a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) news conference in New York, March 31, 2008. The University of Massachusetts will meet Florida University and Ohio State University will meet Ole Miss in the semifinals of the NIT in New York, Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

BY PARRISH ALFORD
Daily Journal

NEW YORK – If possession is nine-tenths of the law, it must work that way with winning basketball too.

It has in the NIT at least.

Ole Miss (24-10) has outrebounded three NIT opponents by an average of 14 boards a game. The Rebels hope their presence on the glass will help lift them past Ohio State (22-13) in tonight's semifinal meeting.

Tipoff will be sometime after 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

The Ole Miss-Ohio State winner will face the winner of tonight's first semifinal, either UMass or Florida, in Thursday's championship game.

Ole Miss dominated Virginia Tech on the boards, 46-23, in an 81-72 win against the Hokies in Blacksburg on Wednesday.

“We have to rebound. It's what we do,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We're not overly athletic. We're not very long and lean, so we have to use our girth. It's something this team has embraced, and we'll have to rebound tonight if we're going to stay in New York very long.”

Ole Miss led the SEC in rebound margin at plus-6.1.

'They attack the glass'
The Rebels have been outrebounded just five times this year, and they lost three of those games.

“They're animals. They attack the glass, and they take pride in it,” Ohio State point guard Jamar Butler said. “They have three or four guys that crash the glass and one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation.”

That would be senior center Dwayne Curtis, who ranks fourth nationally with 4.35 offensive rebounds per game. In the second half in Blacksburg, Ole Miss outscored Virginia Tech 24-12 in second-chance points.

Curtis leads the team with 9.5 rebounds a game, and Kenny Williams adds 6.7. Ole Miss really found its rebounding rhythm, however, once Jermey Parnell returned from a high ankle sprain that caused him to miss five games early in the SEC schedule.

“That's really become the personality of our team,” Kennedy said.

It hasn't been the Buckeyes' personality.

Ohio State has a rebounding margin of just plus-0.1. In three NIT games the Buckeyes have a rebounding margin of minus-4.3-including minus-7.0 on the offensive boards.

“That's been a concern of ours all year,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “I think a lot of it has to do with our field goal defense being in the top 10 in the nation. People are missing more against us, but we have to do a better job of rebounding. We know we're not going to stop them from getting offensive rebounds, but the fewer the better, and we have to try to not let them convert those.”

Senior forward Othello Hunter is second on the team with 6.4 rebounds a game and second in the Big 10 in field goal percentage (59.8 percent).

Seven-foot freshman Kosta Koufos leads the Buckeyes with 6.6 boards a game.

“They have that 7-footer, and they're a nice, athletic team,” Curtis said. “But them being out-rebounded is good for us. We're a good rebounding team. That's what our focus is.”