But when the game was slipping away and the clock was winding down in Nashville, Andy Kennedy expanded his circle.
Freshman Anthony Perez, rarely in the game when it’s on the line, hit a 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left, a big shot in the Rebels’ 13-point comeback for an 89-79 overtime win against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss has built momentum with wins in six straight games and eight of its last nine. The Rebels are receiving votes in both major polls.
“What we’ve got to realize is the first week of conference play is gone. We’ve got those two in our pocket, and I don’t want to give them back, but they don’t do us any good moving forward,” Kennedy said. “We have to get to the next game.”
The next game is today. The Rebels (14-2, 3-0 SEC) will try to get off to a better start in a friendly environment with a 12:30 p.m., tip against Arkansas. The SEC Network TV game will be shown locally by WCBI.
The last time Ole Miss won its first four SEC games FDR was in the White House.
The Razorbacks (11-5, 2-1) are coming off an 88-80 double-overtime win over Auburn Wednesday night in Fayetteville.
Marshall Henderson’s game-tying 3-point shot made the highlight shows, and Reggie Buckner and Murphy Holloway helped the Rebels out-rebound Vanderbilt.
But something wasn’t right in the second half, and Kennedy needed something else.
In addition to Perez’s big shot, Martavious Newby contributed a rebound and a steal in four minutes.
“We were trying to find a spark,” Kennedy said. “I thought we were a little lethargic at a number of positions. Anthony helped us, and Newby helped us.”
Going into the game Perez was just 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
After the Christmas break Kennedy sought to increase scoring from the reserves by bringing Nick Williams off the bench.
“Me and Jarvis didn’t play too well early on. Those guys came in and made some shots and did what they had to do. Anthony hasn’t been playing a lot, but he made a big three, and that kind of swung it back in our favor,” Williams said.
Perez’ shot made it 69-63 Vanderbilt, a manageable deficit for Ole Miss.
Kennedy said Williams was “non-existent” most of the game, but he finished with six points, a bucket in the lane with 1:29 left in regulation, then two more scores in overtime. He finished 3-for-7 from the floor in 16 minutes.
“I like the fact that we’re sitting here 14-2, and we’ve gotten off to a good start, but it’s a long season. I want to see how this group responds to a different set of circumstances,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys that can help us in spots. We just have to keep coming together.”