By David Brandt/The Associated Press
OXFORD — There were some uneasy moments for Andy Kennedy as Ole Miss struggled with Southeastern Louisiana before pulling away for a 68-59 victory Sunday night.
And while it wasn’t particularly fun at the time, the Rebels’ coach hopes that it was at least educational.
“We played into their hands and ended up grinding it out,” Kennedy said. “But in retrospect, that’s not so bad for us. It made us adjust to a different style and have to play a different way and get some game pressure.”
Chris Warren scored 22 points and dished six assists as Ole Miss (11-3) came back from a 31-27 halftime deficit to win for its third straight.
Zach Graham scored 14 points while Reginald Buckner added 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
The Rebels struggled with Southeastern Louisiana’s deliberate pace, and didn’t take the lead for good until Graham’s jumper pushed the Rebels ahead 47-46 with 10:11 remaining. It was the first two points of a 13-0 run that buried the Lions, who went scoreless for nearly six minutes.
Warren scored six points during the run. The 5-foot-10 senior scored 15 of his points in the second half, finishing 7 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line.
“We may come out sluggish, which is not a good trait, but we’re going to play,” Warren said.
Ole Miss shot 48.2 percent from the field (27 of 56) and held Southeastern Louisiana to just 38.2-percent shooting (21 of 55). The Rebels outrebounded the Lions, 38-30.
Buckner’s big game came less than a week after he missed the Rebels’ victory over Alcorn State because of a sore knee. But he looked fully healthy against the Lions, using his 6-foot-8 body to create havoc in the paint on both offense and defense.
“I thought he was really good,” Kennedy said. “His energy is outstanding. And on offense, he’s getting better.”
Trevor Gaskins, who is averaging 10.3 points per game, missed the game because of a strained hamstring. Kennedy said he hopes to have the junior guard back by the end of the week.
Southeastern Louisiana (6-6) was led by Gary Dixon’s 19 points. Trent Hutchin added 16 — including two 3-pointers during a late run that pulled the Lions within six points twice. The last time was with 1:13 remaining, when his off-balance 3-pointer brought the score to 65-59, but Graham responded with a conventional three-point play to put the game away.
The Rebels have one more nonconference game, at SMU, before conference play begins on Saturday at Florida.
In the downtrodden Western Division, the Rebels are considered one of the favorites. Alabama, Auburn and LSU are all mired in rebuilding mode while Mississippi State — widely regarded as being the most talented team in the division — is struggling with suspensions and in-fighting.
“All we can do is try to get better as a team and try to figure out who we are,” Kennedy said. “Let’s form an identity. And I think we’re close to doing that. I think guys are starting to understand roles. If we can get everybody back healthy, I like this team’s chances.”
Ole Miss has won at least 20 games in three of Kennedy’s first four seasons, but hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in that time.