OXFORD – Five days after joining the nation’s elite, No. 25 Ole Miss at times looked like another team at the rec center.
Shooting 55 percent from the floor mid-way through the second half, McNeese State built a 15-point lead, but Ole Miss hit another gear and rallied for a an 83-67 win before 5,547 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum Saturday.
Junior guard Eniel Polynice had four steals, most of them down the stretch, as the Rebels amped up their defense to spark the comeback.
McNeese’s Diego Kapelan, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard, hit three 3-pointers in a five-minute stretch in the first 20 minutes as the Cowboys (3-5) built a 34-28 halftime lead. He hit three more in the first 71⁄2 minutes of the second half, and McNeese was up 57-43 after Kapelan’s final 3-pointer with 12 minutes, 36 seconds remaining.
The Cowboys’ biggest lead was 47-32 after Patrick Richard knocked down a 3 with 16:15 to play.
Down six at the break this time, Ole Miss had hit only 3-of-11 from the free throw line. The Rebels were 13-for-16 from the free throw line in the second half.
“Honestly, I didn’t think we came out of the gate very sluggish,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We missed some chip shots, then started to jog back defensively. That left their perimeter scorers open. They were making shots, playing more confident, and that kind of fed the fire for them. We averted disaster with 15 pretty good minutes of basketball, and we need to learn from this.”
McNeese had a 10-rebound edge in the first half, Ole Miss a nine-rebound edge in the second. The Rebels had only seven turnovers and forced 18.
Polynice had only one of those turnovers in 26 minutes of play. He also had nine assists and 12 points.
“It was his best game. He made great plays with his hands and facilitated the majority of our baskets near the end,” Kennedy said.
Ole Miss is 43-2 all-time against Southland Conference teams and hasn’t lost to one since 1995. Polynice said the Rebels were overlooking McNeese State.
“It was a lack of energy, a lack of attention to detail. It didn’t look like we took them seriously at all, and we can’t do any teams like that,” he said.
After Kapelan’s last 3-pointer, the Rebels responded with an 18-2 run to take a 61-59 lead when Polynice scored in transition with 6:32 left.
Polynice had eight points, an assist and a steal in the run, as Ole Miss more aggressively attacked the McNeese zone.
McNeese tied the game at 61, but Ole Miss followed with two free throws by Zach Graham and a Polynice steal and layup. It was 65-61 with 5:14 left, and Ole Miss pulled away from there. Chris Warren led five Ole Miss scorers in double-figures with 20 points.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal