Rebs stuff Winthrop to stay unbeaten|[12/14/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

JACKSON — Andy Kennedy now has a winning record in the Big House.

The second-year Ole Miss coach guided the Rebels to a 76-71 victory over NCAA Tournament regular Winthrop on Thursday night giving Kennedy his first win in Jackson in more than two decades.

“I wanted to break .500,” said Kennedy, who lost in the state tournament as a player at Louisville HIgh School in the mid-1980s and won the all-star game at the Mississippi Coliseum.

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On Thursday he added a victory in a game he and his players admitted was not their best effort.

“Winthrop is a quality team that returned three starters off their NCAA Tournament team that went 29-5 last year,” said Kennedy, whose team improved to 8-0 on the year. “We did the same thing against a quality Central Florida team last week. We’ve beaten two quality teams without playing our best basketball.”

A dominating performance by the Ole Miss post players — the Rebels had 16 offensive rebounds to Winthrop’s six — allowed the Rebels to shake off an awful first half. Ole Miss led 35-33, but only connected on 14 of 38 shots, including 12 missed 3-pointers.

“I told our guys at half, down two, that my formula was to keep the game in the 70s,” Winthrop coach Randy Peele said. “They’ve played one less game than us and taken 60 more shots. To me, they want the game in the 80s.”

The Rebels are second nationally with a 92 points-per-game average and the first-half struggles may have been attributed to the new surroundings. It was the first Ole Miss game at the Mississippi Coliseum in 18 years. The nets were duct taped to the goals and one of the shot clocks malfunctioned.

Kennedy said, though, that he scheduled the game in the capital not only to attract metro area alumni but to get his team used to neutral court games.

“Every game in the NCAA Tournament is played on a neutral court,” said Kennedy, who added that he planned to schedule games in Jackson in the coming years. “It was good to come down here. We didn’t know where the locker rooms were or how to get to the floor. But all that was planned.”

The Rebels’ second-half resembled little of the first. Ole Miss shot 57 percent in the second half and the dominance on the boards continued. Dwayne Curtis, the most physical Rebel, led all scorers with 22 points and he snagged 10 rebounds. Post player Kenny Williams added nine points and eight rebounds. On the night, Ole Miss scored 21 second-chance points.

As good as the post players were, it was a freshman’s 3-pointer from deep in the corner that helped Ole Miss pull away late. Leading 71-67 with 2 minutes, 15 seconds to play, Trevor Gaskins nailed a trey to up the lead to seven. Winthrop did not get within five points the rest of the way.

“The shot clock was running down and I knew we needed to shoot the ball,” Gaskins said. “When Chris (Warren) passed the ball out to me I had a little space and took the shot.”

Antwon Harris led four Winthrop players in double figures with 17 points.

Ole Miss has a week off before traveling to Puerto Rico for the San Juan Shootout. The Rebels are scheduled to play DePaul in the first game Thursday.

Miami 64, Miss. State 58

Jack McClinton scored 29 points and hit three 3-pointers in the final 4 minutes to rally Miami.

The Hurricanes (9-0) erased a five-point deficit for the win and are off to their best start since the 2001-02 season when they started 14-0.

The game was close throughout and Mississippi State led much of the way. The Bulldogs (5-3) led 28-27 at halftime after the Hurricanes hit just 2 of 13 3-pointers. But Mississippi State was not able to pull away and never led by more than five in the second half.

That left Miami an opening and McClinton took advantage. The Canes trailed 56-51 when he hit a run-starting 3 with 3:22 left. That started a 9-2 spurt for McClinton that gave Miami a 60-58 lead.

He hit 5 of 10 3-pointers and was the only Miami player to score more than 10 points.