By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy felt a sense of embarrassment and relief at the same time.
Middle Tennessee quickly erased a 10-point deficit early in the second half and dominated the glass, but it wasn’t enough to turn back the Rebels on Saturday.
Jarvis Summers scored 25 points, and Marshall Henderson sealed the deal with a big 3-pointer from the left side as the Rebels’ defeated the Blue Raiders 72-63 before 6,186 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Middle (7-3) had beaten the Rebels in 2011 on a neutral site and again last year in Murfreesboro on its way to an NCAA tournament bid.
Kennedy assigned the win more value then earlier Ole Miss (7-2) victories against Georgia Tech and Penn State.
“I think it’s our best win of the year,” he said. “That’s how much respect I have for Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee.”
Summers was 7-for-11 from the floor, 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
It was Henderson, though, who helped Kennedy breathe easier at the end.
Relentless on the glass, Middle had 22 second-chance points and out-rebounded Ole Miss 48-27, factors that helped the Blue Raiders build a six-point lead at 58-52 with 7 minutes, 25 seconds left.
“They beat us 21 on the glass. That’s embarrassing,” Kennedy said.
The Rebels, though, remained in striking distance and put together several good defensive possessions at the end.
They regained the lead on a Henderson 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left. Then, clinging to a one-possession lead, Henderson passed up an open look on the right side and ended up taking a more difficult shot in front of the Rebels’ bench with 30 seconds remaining. He knocked it down for a 69-63 lead.
“Coach put the fire in us and told us if we lost this game it could cost us our season,” Summers said. “The upperclassmen came together and tried to get the win, and that’s what we did.”
Turnovers were a problem for Ole Miss in last Sunday’s 115-105 overtime loss to then-No. 13 Oregon, but the Rebels had just eight turnovers against Middle while forcing 14.
The Rebels’ 10-point edge in transition points off-set Middle’s put-backs.
Henderson was 4-for-11 from the floor, 4-for-9 from the arc. He also had five assists.
“Down the stretch we probably played our best three or four minutes of the year to win this game,” Kennedy said. “When we were down three or four, they kind of had us on our heels.”