By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Terrico White was a little bit taller, could jump a little higher, and impacted the game in a lot of ways.
White, an inconsistent big-play producer much of the season, had 27 points and seven rebounds to lead Ole Miss to an 84-65 NIT first-round win over Sun Belt Conference regular season champion Troy before a crowd 3,107 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
The Rebels will take on Memphis, a 73-71 winner over St. John’s, on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Troy’s top scorer, Brandon Hazzard, a wing player generously listed at 6-foot-2, scored 22 points, some early when the Trojans hung around, some late when the game had been decided.
But not enough when the Rebels (22-10) extended the lead to 15 at the end of the first half, and not enough when they opened it up to 23 in the second half.
White, a 6-5 leaper, was active with floaters in the lane, on the offensive glass and from the 3-point line.
“Certainly he has the ability to do that, and we’d like to see it every night,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Maybe he’s just not ready to do it every night.”
He said his confidence was boosted, because he know he had physical gifts not as prominent among the visiting lineup.
“Yeah, that was part of it,” White said.
Whatever the cause for the offensive explosion, it was White’s best game since getting 29 against Jacksonville State on Dec. 29. He was 11-for-20 from the floor, 7-for-10 in the second half when his dunks with fastbreak lobs from Chris Warren and Zach Graham helped the Rebels score the first six points out of the locker room.
He was 3-for-5 from 3-point range and had five rebounds on the offensive end.
“That son of a gun’s good, but you can’t put it all on him. They’ve got a lot of good basketball players,” Troy coach Don Maestri said.
One of those is Warren, who added 16 points, going 3-for-8 from the arc. Murphy Holloway and Terrance Henry each scored 11 points.
With their fast start in the second half, the Rebels pushed the lead to 23 points when White knocked down a 3 with 13 minutes, 19 seconds left.
That’s when Hazzard’s hot hand, some sloppy defense and a couple of turnovers helped the Trojans cut the lead to 14 points at 65-51 with 10:51 left.
Kennedy said Troy’s zone defense is different from what the Rebels often see in the way the Trojans slide into help position.
When the Rebels were passive they struggled, but when White and other athletes found gaps they were successful.
“When we got up 15 at the half, you could see a little doubt from them, and you don’t want that doubt to go away,” Kennedy said. “We came out great, but we got lax again. We lost our man a couple of times. One of the reasons we’re in the NIT and not the NCAA is we’ve lost focus.”
Trevor Gaskins helped Ole Miss regain its focus with a 3-pointer, the first bucket of eight straight points. The Rebels were not threatened again.
“This was not our ultimate goal, but we’re stuck here,” Warren said. “But we’re all players. When we step on the court we’re trying to win. Nothing more.”