By Paul Newberry/The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Chris Warren scored 20 points and Ole Miss won a game of spurts, pulling away from South Carolina 66-55 Thursday in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
The final run was the decisive one for the Rebels (20-12), who came into Atlanta knowing their only shot at the NCAAs was probably to win four games in four days. After South Carolina (14-16) closed to 50-45 with 9½ minutes to go, Ole Miss put it away with an 11-1 run.
The Rebels advanced to face No. 15 Kentucky in the quarterfinals Friday with their first win in the tournament since 2007.
South Carolina’s season ended with a 20-of-65 performance (31 percent) from the field. Ramon Galloway led the Gamecocks with 19 points, but only one teammate, Sam Muldrow with 10 points, reached double figures.
Warren, on the other hand, had plenty of help. Terrance Henry chipped in with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Dundrecous Nelson and Reginald Buckner had 10 points apiece.
Right off the tip, South Carolina jumped to a quick 5-0 lead, but Ole Miss ripped off 17 straight points with a barrage of 3-pointers. Warren got it started with a trey, and Nelson hit two in a row from beyond the arc.
Bruce Ellington finally stopped the run, hitting a 3 for the Gamecocks, but Nelson came right back with his third 3-pointer of the half. Two straight dunks gave the Rebels their biggest lead of the opening period, 24-10.
Back came South Carolina, which turned things around with a 10-0 stretch of its own. The Gamecocks trailed 30-26 at the half.
After the break, more of the same. Ellington hit a free throw to start the half, then Ole Miss stretched it out again with 11 straight points. Warren connected again from 3-point range, Henry converted a three-point play after being fouled on a dunk, and Warren swished another beyond the arc to make it 41-27.
Galloway hit two straight 3s in South Carolina’s last gasp, making it 62-55 with 1:23 left.
The Gamecocks didn’t score again.
Ole Miss had lost its opening game in the SEC tournament three years in a row. Now, the Rebels have a chance to win two straight for the first time since 2001.
Read more in Friday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.