OXFORD — Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy didn’t really want to talk about the first half of his 25th-ranked Rebels’ 83-67 victory over McNeese State on Saturday.
The first few minutes of the second half weren’t so hot either.
“Can we just talk about the last 15 minutes, please?” Kennedy joked.
Ole Miss used a late rally to come from behind in their second straight game, overcoming another lethargic start to beat another upset-minded underdog in its first contest since joining the Top 25.
The first half that wasn’t so hot included 18 misses from the field, 3 of 11 shooting at the free-throw line and a porous defense that was a step slow.
McNeese State (3-5) led by as many as 15 points before the Rebels (8-1) snapped out of their revelry and went on the attack for their fourth straight victory. It wasn’t the kind of win that leaves you looking forward to practice the next day, though.
“It’s unacceptable,” Kennedy said.
Chris Warren scored 20 points and Eniel Polynice, a former starter, came off the bench to spark the rally, scoring all 12 of his points in the final 10:10 and spurring the Ole Miss defense with four steals during the pivotal moments. The comeback was fast and furious, the complete opposite of the Rebels’ early effort.
Ole Miss struggled against McNeese State’s 2-3 zone in the first half. Kennedy said that bled over into the team’s defense, with players jogging back and leaving the Cowboys open for long jumpers and drives to the basket.
McNeese State, which got 20 points from Patrick Richard, built its largest lead with a 29-10 run that spanned halftime and featured seven 3-pointers, including four by Diego Kapelan, who finished with 18 points. The Cowboys held the Rebels to one field goal over 5:18 at one point during the run and had them against the ropes early in the second as they pushed the lead to 47-32 on Richard’s 3-pointer with 16:16 left.
“Lack of energy, lack of attention to detail,” Polynice said. “It felt like we weren’t taking them seriously at all. And you can’t take no teams like that. You’ve got to come out with the right mindset and take every team as if they’re a good team, and we didn’t do that in the first half. They gave us what we deserved.”
Mississippi answered with an 18-2 run that included eight points from Polynice and gave the Rebels their first lead of the second half, 61-59 with 6:30 left.
The run featured several hustle plays by Polynice. The Rebels tied the game at 59-59 after he stole the ball near the Cowboys’ basket, walked a tight rope along the left sideline, then found Zach Graham ahead of the defense for a layup.
He followed that with a layup on a 2-on-1 break to give the Rebels the lead, then used a midcourt steal and layup to extend the lead. Terrico White and Warren followed with 3s to put the game away.
The Cowboys committed eight of their 18 turnovers in the final 10:30 and the Rebels finished with 23 points off turnovers.
“We had those 18 turnovers and that’s the problem,” McNeese State coach Dave Simmons said. “That’s what we need to look at and see what exactly went wrong, especially against a team that didn’t press us that much.”
It was the second straight come-from-behind win for the Rebels. They trailed by six last weekend against Southern Miss before Warren hit two late 3s to give Ole Miss an 81-79 victory.
This time the Rebels outscored their opponent 40-13 to finish the game.
“We came out flat against Southern Miss and that carried over,” Warren said. “We need to stop doing that and come out strong. We’ve got to be more focused on the game before the game.”
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
Chris Talbott/The Associated Press