REBELS WIN SIXTH STRAIGHT AT HOME
By Chris Burrows
OXFORD Joezon Darby, the free spirit of the Ole Miss Rebels, admitted what the rest of his teammates clearly believe but wouldn’t dare say.
“Hey. We don’t think anybody can beat us in Tad Smith Coliseum. Nobody,” said Darby, just minutes after the Rebels defeated South Carolina 75-65 before 3,510 appreciative fans.
The win marked the sixth straight home win for the Rebels and gave them a 9-3 home mark, the best since Rob Evans became head coach in 1992.
More importantly, it pushed Ole Miss to 11-13 overall and 5-9 in SEC play. The Rebels have one home game remaining, Wednesday with LSU, and a win would guarantee no worse than the No. 5 Western Division seed in the SEC Tournament.
“Our bench won this ball game,” said Evans, whose club played without starting forward Anthony Boone. “We’ve learned how to close teams out.”
South Carolina, down by 16 points in the first half, crept to within 69-65 with four minutes remaining. The Rebels didn’t give up another point and drilled six straight free throws to close it out.
“We’re learning to win in different ways,” Evans said. “Sometimes it’s creating turnovers. Sometimes it’s cutting down turnovers. Tonight it was hitting the free throws.”
The Rebels hit 13-of-16 free throws, complemented by shooting 27-of-51 from the field. Reserves Kenny Davis at point guard and small forward Jon Cantrell stepped up with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Forwards Ansu Sesay and Jason Smith added 14 and 11 points, respectively, for the winners. South Carolina (15-9, 7-7) got 17 points from freshman guard BJ McKie.
“The future of Mississippi basketball is very bright,” Gamecocks coach Eddie Fogler said. “Their bench played big. Davis played well and Cantrell just killed us.”
The Rebels ran off a 10-0 spurt early in the first half and never trailed again. By halftime, a 16-point cushion had melted to 45-32. South Carolina continued to close ground until the final four minutes.
“We’ve matured into a good team here,” Evans said. “We’ve got to keep that up and once we learn to win on the road, this bunch will really be something special.”