November 11, 2007

The Sixth Man: Seniors come up big

When the Rebels opened up their season with a 97-63 win over Mississippi Valley State, a lot of attention centered on the 10 new faces in Ole Miss uniforms.

But in the first half of the Rebels' win over the Delta Devils, it wasn't necessarily the new blood that got things going - it was the familiar faces up front.

Without injured 6-foot-10 center Larry Cox, Mississippi Valley State didn't play anyone over 6-foot-6.

"I would've hoped that we could hurt them inside," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said.

The Rebels did just that, with seniors Dwayne Curtis, Jermey Parnell and Kenny Williams combining for 20 of the Rebels' 4 first-half points on 9-of-10 shooting from the floor.

While Curtis and the Rebel frontline wasn't really challenged offensively, there were challenges defensively.

"When you ask Dwayne Curtis to basically guard a small forward the entire game, it's certainly not in his comfort level," Kennedy said. "But I thought he did a good job for us."

Curtis said the experience would help him defend post players with superior footwork.

"It's good sometimes to try and guard some guys with good, quick feet," Curtis said.

While Curtis had challenges defensively, Williams' biggest challenge was getting on the court.

Williams sat out the Rebels' lone exhibition game. Kennedy said the senior forward didn't dress because he wanted Williams' to regain his focus.

But in his return, Williams had a solid afternoon with 11 points and nine rebounds.

""He's kind of been the leader of the pack. Physically, he's in the best shape of his life," Kennedy said. "He's rebounding the ball; he's shooting it with more confidence.

"Three-for-five from the foul line, are you kidding me?"

For Williams, it wasn't about how he played as much as it was about that he played.

"It was very important to get on the floor. Watching the exhibition, it hurt because I wasn't able to contribute," Williams said. "I felt like I was hurting the team. I had to take care of some off-the-court things so I could play and set an example.

"There's no way a senior shouldn't be playing"

And Kennedy said he's been pleased with Williams' play on the floor.

"He's been, from an effort standpoint, probably our most consistent inside guy. He's really playing with the sense of urgency you want your seniors to play with."

And in the first half Saturday, Kennedy's seniors helped carry the load while the newest Rebels got acquainted.

"I thought or seniors gave us great leadership," Kennedy said, "and our new guys certainly are still a work in progress."

Anxiety Attacks

No Rebel entered the game with expectations quite like the ones placed on the shoulders of David Heurtas. The sophomore guard, a transfer from Florida, had his first basket announced as "his first points as a Rebel."

But Heurtas struggled, making just 1-of-6 from the floor in the first half.

"I'm not sure if he was nervous, but he was really anxious," Kennedy said. "Every time he touched the ball, he'd already shot it before he could catch it."

Heurtas settled down some in the second half, going to the basket. He finished 5-of-13 from the field and 1-of-2 from the free-throw line for 12 points.

"His heart's in the right place. He's a passionate kid, and he plays with great energy," Kennedy said. "He's just got to settle down, and I'm sure he will once he gets some more games under his belt."

Odd man out?

Last year, this wasn't a decision Kennedy would've been faced with.

The 11th man off the Rebel bench Saturday, freshman Malcolm White played just two minutes in his Rebel debut.

"I was trying to get Malcolm in the game. He's been playing really well," Kennedy said. "It's just tough to get him minutes with three seniors and Terrence Watson, who give us a different match up.

"I want to play five post guys, but that's almost impossible."

While Kennedy said there weren't many questions answered after Saturday's win, he knows that he's got depth.

"I had hoped (our depth) would give us a lot more options," Kennedy said. "If one guy's not playing as well, we have different things we can do and different guys to go to.

"That certainly wasn't the case for the majority of last year."

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