OXFORD, Miss. — Style points were not the top consideration for the Mississippi Rebels and head coach Andy Kennedy Sunday night. The top consideration was opening the Southeastern Conference schedule as the Rebels defeated South Carolina 74-69.
“We’re a blue collar team and I think our players are figuring that out,” Kennedy said. “Our effort has been tremendous and tonight, we made SEC plays. It wasn’t pretty in the beginning but we finished.”
Deandre Burnett scored 18 points and added six assists to lead the Rebels (8-5, 1-0) while Markel Crawford and Bruce Stevens added 17 and 10 points, respectively. The Rebels were 20 of 23 from the free throw line (87 percent) in the second half, including eight consecutive opportunities in the final 90 seconds.
“Huge. Twenty of 23 in the second half is huge,” Kennedy said. “Winning the SEC opener is good for our spirit. It does wonders for the psyche of the players and they get to walk with a bounce in their step.”
Chris Silva had 21 points and 13 rebounds for South Carolina (9-4, 0-1), but was hampered by foul trouble during the late Ole Miss run. Frank Booker added 21 points, hitting 6 of 10 from the 3-point line.
“I was proud of our fight and our resolve was good,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “The difference is who makes plays in the final four minutes and Deandre Burnett made plays on our freshman guard (David Beatty).”
Burnett connected on consecutive 3-points to highlight a 16-6 run to build a 63-57 lead with 4:57 left. The Rebels closed out by converting free throws, including four by Burnett, to preserve the win.
Ole Miss was 20 of 49 (41 percent) from the field, 8 of 21 (38 percent) from 3-point range and 26 of 33 (78 percent) from the free throw line.
The Rebels forced 14 turnovers and blocked nine shots.
South Carolina finished 22 of 58 (38 percent) from the field, but managed only 10 of 34 apart from Silva and Booker. The Gamecocks were 8 of 20 (40 percent) from the 3-point line and 17 of 26 (65 percent) from the free throw line. The Gamecocks won the rebound battle, 43-30, including 14 offensive rebounds.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were in position to win an SEC road opener, heading into the final 10 minutes, but could not slow down the Ole Miss guards in the stretch run. The Gamecocks had consecutive turnovers in the final two minutes and were unable to get closer than three points. Wesley Myers had a team-high five assists.
Ole Miss: The Rebels proved they could win without a strong performance from leading scorer Terence Davis, who played only 19 minutes and finished with four points. Marcanvis Hymon had a blocked shot and Crawford added a crucial steal on consecutive possessions inside the final 90 seconds to preserve the win. The Rebels have won four of the last five games.
“Terence (Davis) played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble and he still led us in rebounding with five,” Kennedy said. “The biggest play was the steal by Crawford. That’s an SEC play. Good teams find ways to win regardless who is on the floor.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks open a two-game SEC home stand by hosting Missouri on Wednesday.
Ole Miss: The Rebels visit Georgia on Wednesday.