JONESBORO, Ark. – Starting swing man Eniel Polynice missed the first half for Ole Miss Wednesday night, but the Rebels didn’t miss a beat in productivity.
Junior Zach Graham more than filled the void with 17 points and four assists to help lead Ole Miss to a 79-57 win over Arkansas State before a crowd of 4,234 at the Red Wolves’ Convocation Center.
Polynice, who has been struggling with some level of back pain, took himself out of Sunday’s home win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Afterward, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy seemed confused by Polynice’s actions. Polynice was held out of the first half for what Kennedy called “a coach’s decision.”
Ole Miss (6-1) increased an already large halftime lead of 43-24 and led by 30 on several occasions early in the second half.
Arkansas State (3-3) got as close as 21 points back with less than 10 minutes left, but that was it.
The Rebels are back in Oxford Saturday for a noon tip against Southern Mississippi, the first time those in-state rivals have played on the Ole Miss campus since 1995.
Graham was pleased to contribute but doesn’t see a battle for minutes emerging between Polynice and himself.
“I don’t see it as a competition. Whenever you’re on the court it’s your opportunity to show what you can do, and you have to play as hard as you can,” Graham said.
Kennedy has a different view.
“There’s no question it’s a competition, and that will hopefully make us better. That’s the way we want it.”
The Rebels dominated the glass with a 45-30 edge. Sophomore Murphy Holloway, who was held out Sunday with a slight ankle sprain, returned with characteristic energy and had 13 rebounds, six on the offensive end. He finished with nine points on 4-for-7 shooting.
Terrico White and Chris Warren also reached double figures, White with a game-high 19 points and Warren with 13.
Led by Graham’s 4-for-5 night behind the arc, Ole Miss went 9-for-21 from 3-point range, 42.9 percent. Arkansas State began the night as the Sun Belt Conference leader in 3-point defense at 24.1 percent.
It was almost 15 minutes into the first half before the Red Wolves scored inside the arc against Ole Miss.
“They do a lot of things real easy,” Arkansas State coach John Brady said. “You have to match them athletically, and you have to be extremely patient on offense. We can’t match them athletically, and in the first half we were way too impatient on offense.”
With runs of 12-0 and 14-0 the Rebels took control quickly and built a lead of 22 points in the first half.
The Rebels clicked in all phases early, creating transition chances with defense, hitting perimeter shots in the halfcourt sets and scoring with rebounds when they didn’t.
It was overwhelming for the Red Wolves, who played most of the first half without starting center Martavius Adams, who picked up two quick fouls.
Adams picked up early fouls in the second half also and was never a factor. Few of the Red Wolves factored in when it mattered. Arkansas State was 4-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half, guard Brandon Reed and Daniel Bryant hitting two each and getting open looks when Ole Miss players got caught up in screens.
Open looks were few and far between for the Red Wolves, who just 26.1 percent overall in the first half.
“Coach has been emphasizing defense,” Graham said. “When we got in the passing lanes they tried to take us one-on-one, and we did a pretty good job with that.”
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal