By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The first test had some difficulties for Ole Miss, but when it came time for the essay portion the Rebels had all the right answers.
Ole Miss put five players in double figures and pulled away in the second half for an 80-67 win over Rutgers in the Big East-SEC Challenge before a Saturday afternoon crowd of 4,277 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
The Rebels won by double figures in spite of shooting just 17 for 39 from the free throw line, a woeful 6 for 21 in the first half.
Ole Miss stretched its season-opening win streak to six games and won without the services of freshman Martavious Newby, who has been an energetic rebounder and disruptive defender so far this season.
Newby missed the pre-game meal and therefore did not play, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
“And it was pretty good meal, too,” Kennedy joked.
The meal wasn’t good enough to get the Rebels off to a good start.
With shots from the inside, outside and free throw line failing to fall in the first half, Rutgers led by eight points early in the first half and on seven several other occasions.
The Rebels (6-0) could get close but couldn’t get over the hump. Rutgers led 36-32 at the break.
It was tied at 55 with 8 minutes left when the Rutgers (4-2) defense left Henderson with a wide open look from the corner, and he drained it.
He followed with another 3 and an assist on the Rebels’ next two trips, a spurt that gave Ole Miss a 63-55 edge. The Rebels would not trail again and led by 15 points with 1:47 left.
It was a snapshot of Henderson’s importance to this team, even while continuing his perimeter struggles. Last year’s junior college player of the year was 4 for 13 from the floor, 3 for 12 from the arc. He nudged his way up to 18 points.
It was LaDarius White off the bench that Kennedy called the game’s “MVP.”
“If he doesn’t come off the bench and get 13, the way we were laboring, that might have been the difference in the game,” Kennedy said.
While the Rebels struggled to hit shots, their defense kept them in it. Rutgers’ leading scorer, guard Eli Carter, was held to 10 points, eight below his average. He was 1 for 12 from the floor, 0 for 6 from the arc.
For Ole Miss, Murphy Holloway and Reggie Buckner were difference-makers too, both posting double-doubles. Holloway had 17 points and 15 rebounds, Buckner went for 14 and 11.
“We’ve got a lot more players, and when we get down, somebody’s going to be making something,” Holloway said.
Rutgers had three players with at least six rebounds, Scarlet Knights coach Mike Rice noted the physicality of the day when he called it “an early conference game.”
Having upperclassmen leaders in key positions is an edge for Ole Miss, he said.
“When you have those veteran guys who understand hitting first is always better than reacting, you’ve got something.”