No. 20 Mississippi Falls To Georgia, 70-66
Jan. 13, 2001
By RALPH D. RUSSO
OXFORD, Miss. - Stellar defense has propelled No. 20 Mississippi to its best start in decades.
A lack of it cost the Rebels in their Southeastern Conference home opener.
D.A. Layne scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half as Georgia erased a 10-point deficit in the final 6 1/2 minutes to defeat Ole Miss 70-66 Saturday.
Layne's jumper from just behind the free-throw line with 1:02 left put the Bulldogs (9-7, 2-1 SEC) ahead for the first time, 66-64.
Freshman Justin Reed scored a career-high 21 points to lead the Rebels (14-2, 2-1), off to their best start since the 1936-37 season.
Ole Miss entered as the SEC's stingiest team, yielding an average of 61.5 points per game. The Rebels' aggressive man-to-man smothered the Bulldogs in the first half, allowing just 24 points and 36 percent field-goal shooting.
In the second half, Layne and Ezra Williams found some room to create off the dribble and in transition as the Bulldogs shot 57 percent.
"As a defense we try to depend on ourselves to stop our own man, we could not do that today and our help was not there," Reed said.
"We just weren't playing defense with the same intensity," Ole Miss guard Jason Harrison said.
Layne saw it a little differently.
"We had to adjust to their defense," he said. "We grinded it out and got a big-time victory."
The Bulldogs have done plenty of grinding against a schedule that has had few soft spots. Coming into the game, the RPI ratings had Georgia's previous opponents ranked second-toughest in the country.
Ole Miss was the fourth ranked team Georgia has played, and that doesn't include such formidable opponents as Georgia Tech, California, Fresno State and North Carolina State.
Ole Miss meanwhile came in to Saturday's game on a high having won at
Vanderbilt and Arkansas to open SEC play. They were the Rebels' first two road
victories in conference since February 1999.
And it looked like Mississippi was on its way to its first 3-0 SEC start in three seasons when Harrison sank a free throw following a technical foul on Georgia coach Jim Harrick with 6:28 left.
Harrison's free throw made the score 59-49, but Georgia's defense began to assert itself. Ole Miss scored only five more points as the Bulldogs began converting turnovers into baskets.
"Defense was the key," said Williams, who complemented Layne with 18 points. "The more we turned it up the closer the game got. In the second half we came out with a lot more intensity."
Three straight layups by the Bulldogs off of Rebels' giveaways cut the lead to 61-60.
After Reed banked home a jumper with 2:04 left, Layne tied it at 64-64 moments later with two free throws.
Georgia made another defensive stop then turned it over to Layne for what proved to be the winner.
Stephen Thomas, a 6-foot-8 freshman, came off the bench to score seven second-half points and grab eight rebounds, giving the Bulldogs a much-needed spark inside.
Rahim Lockhart, the Rebels' leading scorer and rebounder, had nine points but fouled out with 7:21 left. Ole Miss struggled at both ends of the floor without its center. Both sides agreed Lockhart's departure changed the game.
"I thought when Lockhart fouled out, our defense was able to pick up some momentum," Harrick said.
Harrison called Lockhart the "focal point" of the Rebels' offense and defense.
Reed said, "We depend on (Lockhart). He gets us going he's our leader."
The Rebels started with a 14-2 run. Despite going cold from the field in the final nine minutes of the first half, Ole Miss held a 33-24 advantage at the break.
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