November 18, 2008

Graham, Huertas step up in easy Ole Miss win

Eniel Polynice watched from the second row on Tuesday night, hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery and joining sophomore guard Trevor Gaskins on the season-long disabled list.

Ole Miss' first game without the talented junior guard went about as well as the Rebels could have hoped. Polynice's replacement, Zach Graham, scored a career-high 16 points and Ole Miss was a perfect 22-for-22 from the free throw line in an 89-71 win over South Alabama.

Graham, a sophomore who played just three minutes in Ole Miss' season-opening win over Arkansas State last Friday, was 3-for-4 from the floor, including 2-for-3 from behind the 3-point line. He made all eight of his free throw attempts and added three rebounds making his debut in a role he'll likely have to fill the rest of the season.

"It's been on my mind all day. I've just been trying to focus and take care of things. I felt good out there. We played a good game. We shared the ball, boarded, hit 22-of-22 from the line, so that was big."

"He stepped up," Kennedy said of Graham. "We needed some production. He played 27 minutes. Terrico played 18 minutes and I thought we got pretty good production out of that spot. We lose a little bit on defense. Eniel was unquestionably our best perimeter defender and he had our best basketball IQ as it related to defensive stuff. We're going to have to figure out a way to come together defensively."

Ole Miss (2-0) controlled the game from the start and built a 46-27 lead. The Rebels led by as many as 25 early in the second half before cruising down the stretch. David Huertas was 8-for-14 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from behind the 3-point line, to score a game-high 27 points. In the opener, the junior guard had a game-high 24 points.

"This is the (Huertas) we need," Kennedy said. "We needed it before EP and Trevor went down. Boy, we need it now. We need consistency out of that spot because realistically, we can't be dependent on the other spot being consistent. We know that. So there's no reason to act like we're going to get the same productivity from a consistency standpoint when you lose your most experienced player and you replace him with a true freshman and a kid who played 13 minutes a game (last season)."

Huertas, who played 32 minutes Tuesday, didn't try to minimize the long-term losses of Gaskins and Polynice. However, he said their absences would not lead him to take more shots just for the sake of it.

"Those are two big losses for our team," Huertas said. "We just have to deal with it and people have to step up. Zach has to step up. Terrico is a freshman and he's got to grow up quick and also step up. …Eniel is one of the oldest guys on the team. He played a huge role last year."

While Ole Miss missed Polynice's defense, the Rebels dominated the glass, 42-31, and forced 15 South Alabama turnovers. Guard Chris Warren added 15 points for the Rebels, while junior forward DeAundre Cranston and freshman forward Terrance Henry added 9 and 8 points, respectively.

"Anything that has to do with being physical, they kicked our tail," South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow said.

Brandon Davis led the Jaguars (1-1) with 19 points. DeAndrae Ross added 12 points, while LaShun Watson had 11.

Ole Miss travels to Daytona Beach, Fla., Friday for the Glenn Wilkes Classic. The Rebels play Utah Friday at 5:30 p.m. and Marshall Sunday at 3 p.m. before returning home for a Nov. 26 date against Central Florida.

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