CATEGORY: Basketball



By Chris Burrows

Daily Journal

OXFORD – A week ago, the Ole Miss Rebels were the worst team in the SEC. Today, the Ole Miss Rebels are the hottest team in the SEC.

“The difference is we’re maturing and executing better,” said head coach Rob Evans, whose club won its second straight league game, 70-63 over Alabama. “You’re seeing a young team really start to grow up.”

The Rebels (7-9, 2-5), after whipping No. 21 Auburn on Wednesday, picked up Saturday where they left off. Trailing 2-0 after two minutes, Ole Miss got in front and never trailed again, much to the delight of 3,417 noisy fans in Tad Smith Coliseum.

“We knew we needed to get off to a good start,” said sophomore forward Anthony Boone, who scored 12 points and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds. “A week ago, we hadn’t won an SEC game and we weren’t playing with confidence. Now we are.”

Ole Miss led 20-9 after 10 minutes and managed to build the cushion to 58-45 with 5:25 remaining. Alabama (10-6, 4-4) made a surge by canning four 3-point shots and a three-point play by Brian Williams to get within 66-63 with 42 seconds left.

“We showed poise down the stretch,” Evans said. “It had been frustrating to not finish off an opponent. Today we did. We stepped up and hit some big free throws.”

Ole Miss buried 10-of-13 free throws in the final two minutes, primarily by guards Joezon Darby and Michael White. The Rebels hit 20-of-29 free throws (69 percent) and had only nine turnovers, ranking among the season’s best efforts on both counts.

“I’d been saying all year that Ole Miss plays hard, rebounds well and plays as good a defense as anybody in the league,” said Alabama coach David Hobbs, whose club has lost three straight games. “The difference in the past week is they’re finishing plays offensively.

“When you shoot better, everything looks better. When you don’t, everything looks worse. That’s what happened to us. We didn’t shoot well (22-of-54 field goals, 14-of-21 free throws) at all.”

While Boone pounded inside, the Rebels got 10 points and a career-best 9 assists from White and 15 points from Darby off the bench. When Alabama made the late surge, Darby carried the Rebels offensively with eight points.

Alabama got a brilliant effort from forward Roy Rogers (17 points, 12 rebounds), but the Tide didn’t get him the ball in the final two minutes, preferring to fire from 3-point range.

Guards Marvin Orange and Eric Washington, a Pearl native, had 11 points each. Washington entered the game as the No. 2 scorer in the SEC, averaging 19.5 points per game.

“We’re a good defensive team and we’re beginning to take the momentum from that end of the floor and convert offensively,” Evans said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, but we’re showing that we’re on the right track.”

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