By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Chances for an NCAA bid for Ole Miss might be a matter of speculation, but this much isn’t: Those chances remain alive this morning after a grind-it-out win against out-talented LSU.
Chris Warren went 5-for-7 from 3-point range and scored 17 of his game-high 22 points in the first half, as the Rebels secured their third 20-win season under Andy Kennedy with a 72-59 win before 6,430 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum on Thursday night.
The win – the first sweep of LSU since 1999 – also guarantees at least a break-even season in SEC play, the first since Kennedy’s first year in 2007.
What it does not guarantee is an NCAA at-large bid. It is a step in that on-going process, however, the next step – also a must-win situation as far as the NCAA discussion – is Saturday at 3 at Arkansas.
“As long as there are games there’s hope. We understand completely what’s on the line,” Kennedy said.
It was a three-point game at 58-55 with 6 minutes, 31 seconds left, but the Rebels surged out with back-to-back baskets by Terrico White, who scored all 15 of his points in the second half.
LSU guard Bo Spencer – not Tigers star Tasmin Mitchell – kept the Tigers (10-19, 1-14 SEC) close with 20 points and a 5-for-11 night from 3-point range.
Mitchell finished with 11 points, six below his average, and was 4 for 16 from the floor.
Frustrated LSU head coach Trent Johnson says he needs more talent.
“We’ve been able to get close against a lot of people. What’s not enabling us to get over the hump is called being a good player, having good guards, being able to make plays. There’s no secret to it. Our record is what it is. All you have to do his refer to the stat sheet. There’s a reason we’re almost last in a little of everything.”
Mixing defenses, it was finally the matchup of Eniel Polynice on Spencer and Zach Graham on Mitchell that slowed things down for LSU.
Ole Miss also showed some zone defense down the stretch, and the Tigers, who stayed within striking distance most of the night, couldn’t hit the buckets down the stretch.
While LSU has won but once in SEC play, the Tigers have been competitive of late, and they forced the Rebels into a slow-down halfcourt game in the first half.
While the Tigers were able to dictate pace, they weren’t able to find Warren.
“I got open looks, and I stepped into it and knocked them down,” he said.
Warren, second in the SEC with a 41.0 3-point percentage against league foes, was 5-for-5 from the arc in the first half. He was 6-for-7 from the floor.
Ole Miss out-rebounded LSU 40-33, but some season-long problems were still in play.
“If we’d have hit free throws, it would have been a 20-point win,” Kennedy said.
Instead, Ole Miss was 11 for 23 at the free-throw line.
In the second half the Rebels (20-9, 8-7 SEC) were more aggressive in attacking the zone. White, who was 0 for 5 from the arc after going 4 for 6 at Alabama last Saturday, began to find success with his mid-range game and on the offensive glass, where he had five of his seven rebounds.
He had a three-point play with a leaner in the first 12 seconds of the second half.
Graham benefitted from some of the inside-out play with a 3 for 8 night from 3-point range. He reached double figures for only the second time in 12 games and tied his SEC-high with 16 points.
“It definitely was a close game,” Graham said. “Coach wanted us to be more aggressive not only on offense but on defense, and we were able to do that.”