December 8, 2007

Rebels win tough battle at UCF

In the first half, it looked easy. On the scoreboard, it looked easy. But when the Ole Miss men's basketball team headed to Central Florida for its first road game, it was anything but easy.

A fast start and a strong finish helped Ole Miss secure its first road win of the season, as the Rebels defeated UCF 76-67.

A pair of big steals and easy buckets from Chris Warren and Kenny Williams helped the Rebels turn a late one-point lead into a comfortable margin - with the Rebels (7-0) outscoring UCF 12-4 in the final 3:30.

"I thought we made some huge plays defensively late and made some big plays at the basket," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We were able to get a nine-point victory on the road, and those can be hard to come by.

"To walk out of an opposing venue with the win, you have to take it, and we did."

Warren led four Rebels in double figures with 18 points. However, the freshman guard didn't have a single assist and committed nine turnovers in his return to Orlando. Williams added 11 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two steals.

Jermaine Taylor led all scorers with 19 points.

The Rebel defense did a good job on an ice-cold UCF offense. The Knights hit under 35 percent of their field-goal tries and just 1-of-12 from three-point range.

While the Rebel defense kept the Knights at bay in the first half, a pair of Ole Miss freshman helped guide the Ole Miss offense to a 42-32 halftime lead.

Warren started the game red hot, hitting his first four three-point attempts as Ole Miss jumped out to a 20-13 lead. After making his first four 3's, Warren missed his next six tries.

However, the Ole Miss offense stalled for a period midway through the first half. Kennedy turned to his bench for a spark and got one from Zach Graham.

In the half-court offense, Graham slashed and shot his way to all nine of his points on 4-of-5 shooting, giving the Rebels a 10-point cushion going into halftime.

"I thought Zach Graham was huge for us in the first half," Kennedy said. "He was a big spark."

But the Rebels struggled early in the second half, and UCF (4-4) closed the lead to six after Taylor scored easy baskets off of consecutive Ole Miss turnovers.

"They kept coming at us," Kennedy said.

After UCF cut the lead to four on five-straight points from Taylor, Ole Miss got the ball to its big men.

With more production inside, Ole Miss opened its lead back up to 13 before UCF closed.

A big three-point shot with just one second left on the shot clock from Taylor capped a 12-0 run and made the score 62-61.

But from that point on, Ole Miss went on a 14-6 run to close the game, giving the Rebels their seventh win.

Kennedy said the tight second half in a hostile environment will do the Rebels a load of good in January.

"I thought this was a great learning situation," he said. "This was really good for us and will help us in SEC play."

The Rebels head to Jackson for the first time in 18 years to take on Winthrop Thursday at 7 p.m. Winthrop (4-3) is coming off its second-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and already has a win over Georgia Tech this season.

"This will be a challenge for us," Kennedy said, "and we'll have to pass the test."

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