Rebels Open NIT with Mountaineers Wednesday

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NIT First Round: Ole Miss (20-12) vs. Appalachian State (25-7)
Wednesday, March 14, 2007 7 p.m. CT
Oxford, Miss. C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum (8,700)

Live TV: (pay-per-view); CSS (Matt Stewart, play-by-play; Tom Herrion, analyst) 
Live Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Pete Cordelli, analyst; Richard Cross, analyst)
Satellite Radio: NA

 After a four-year drought, Ole Miss is back in postseason play, as the Rebels received a bid to the National Invitation Tournament Sunday. South Region No. 4 seed Ole Miss will host No. 5 seed Appalachian State in the opening round Wednesday in Oxford.
 Tickets for the NIT game will be $15 for adults and $4 for students and youth, and can be purchased by calling the Ole Miss Ticket Office at 662-915-7167. There will be general parking with no charge. The game will be televised on CSS and also be available on on a pay-per-view basis.

 Ole Miss is returning to postseason play for the 13th time in the program’s history and the first time since earning an NCAA Tournament berth in 2002. That season capped a streak of five straight years in postseason play. The Rebels’ seven postseason appearances in the last 11 years equals the second-most of any SEC Western Division team over that span.
 The Rebels have an overall postseason record of 9-12 in the program’s history. Prior to this year, Ole Miss had played in six NITs (1980, 1982, 1983, 1987, 1989, 2000) and six NCAA Tournaments (1981, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002), The Rebels’ best postseason result came in the 2001 NCAA Tournament when the team reached the Sweet Sixteen before falling to eventual national champion Arizona.
 Ole Miss made its first postseason appearance in 1980, reaching the NIT second round. That season began a string of four straight years with postseason play, including the program’s first NCAA berth in 1981. The Rebels also saw postseason action in the 1987 and 1989 NITs.

 Located in Boone, N.C., Appalachian State enters the postseason with a 25-7 overall mark and boast victories against top-25 teams Vanderbilt and Virginia. The Mountaineers captured the SoCon North Division title with 15-3 league record but suffered an 89-87 overtime defeat to College of Charleston in the Southern Conference Tournament semifinals. The loss ended an eight-game win streak and was only the second setback in ASU’s last 14 games, and the other was also in OT. Two-time all-conference senior guard D.J. Thompson leads Appalachian with 15.5 points and 5.0 assists per game this season. Junior forward Jeremy Clayton also earned All-SoCon honors with averages of 10.2 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds. Virginia transfer and junior forward Donte Minter is adding 11.4 points and 5.0 boards off the bench.

 The Rebels and Mountaineers have met only once before on December 27, 1996 at the Lobo Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M. Ole Miss prevailed 75-63, led by Ansu Sesay’s 18 points with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Jason Smith posted 17 points and 7 boards, while Joezon Darby and Anthony Boone scored 15 and 12, respectively.

 The Rebels are playing in their seventh National Invitation Tournament. Ole Miss’ last appearance in the NIT was 2000, when the team advanced to the quarterfinals before losing at N.C. State. It equaled the best NIT finish for the Rebels, who also reached the quarterfinals in 1983 before falling at DePaul.
 In its seven NIT appearances, Ole Miss has a 6-6 record. The Rebels have a 5-1 record in home games in the NIT, and have won four straight contests in Oxford dating back to the 1983 NIT.  The lone loss in an NIT home game was a 61-59 defeat to Virginia Tech in the 1982 second round.

 Wednesday’s winner will advance to a March 19 meeting with the winner of South Region No. 1 seed Clemson and No. 8 East Tennessee State in the second round. The host school in the second round and quarterfinal, which will be March 21, will be based on the higher seed. The NIT Final Four is March 27 and 29 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

 With the SEC Tournament victory over LSU, Ole Miss secured the program’s eighth 20-win season and first since going 20-11 during the 2001-02 campaign, the program's last NCAA Tournament appearance. Over the last four losing seasons, the Rebels’ previous high for wins had been 14. Also, after five or less SEC victories in each season since 2002, Ole Miss nearly doubled that mark with eight this year.

 With the thrilling victory over Auburn in the regular season finale, Ole Miss earned the program’s fourth SEC Western Division championship and first since 2001. Just like this year, the Rebels were picked to finish last in the West that preseason as well. Ole Miss also captured consecutive division crowns in 1997 and 1998. The Rebels’ four SEC West titles in the last 11 years is the most of any division rival over that span.

 With his 8 points against Florida at the SEC Tournament, Todd Abernethy ran his career point total to exactly 1,000, becoming the 29th player in Rebel history to reach that mark. Abernethy also needs 4 more assists to tie Jason Harrison (1999-2002) for third on the all-time chart and 11 more 3-pointers to tie Harrison for fourth on the career trey list.
 In addition, with his 3 3-pointers at South Carolina, senior Clarence Sanders moved atop the Ole Miss single-season chart for treys, passing Aaron Harper’s 2002 total of 83. Sanders’ tally is now at 94.

 Over the last decade, the "Tad Pad" proved to be one of the toughest arenas in the nation for opposing teams to play. With a 15-1 mark this year, Ole Miss has won 147 of its last 180 games (.817 winning percentage) in Oxford dating back to the 1995-96 campaign. Included during this run are homecourt winning streaks of 29 and 15 games. The Rebels have an all-time record of 381-180 (.679 winning percentage) at C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum, which opened in the 1965-66 season. 

 Since the 1993-94 season, the Rebels have posted an impressive 133-44 record (.751 winning percentage) versus non-conference opponents. Ole Miss has been particularly dominant against out of conference clubs at home. Ole Miss was a flawless 8-0 this season, and last year’s loss to No. 5 Memphis was only the Rebels’ fifth non-SEC home loss since 1995. Overall, Ole Miss ended the non-conference portion of this regular season schedule with an 11-3 mark, with all three losses coming on the road to No. 19 UConn 77-59, No. 16 Memphis 82-70 and Saint Louis 59-56.

 Ole Miss is second in the SEC in both in turnover margin (+3.91) and assist/turnover ratio (1.24). The Rebels have been in single digits in turnovers in 11 games and five times in league play. Ole Miss had only 5 giveaways against Alabama and a season-low 4 against LSU. Senior guard Todd Abernethy is second in the NCAA in assist/turnover ratio at 3.22.

 Andy Kennedy's style of "pressure basketball" is paying tremendous dividends for the Rebels on the offensive side. The team is averaging 73.3 points per game, a 8.1 raise from a year ago, and the highest clip since scoring 77.0 per game in 1998-99. Ole Miss scored 80-plus points in four consecutive SEC games this year for the first time since 1976. The team’s 80 points against LSU  Friday was its most in an SEC Tournament game since pouring in 86 against Tennessee in a first-round win at the 2001 event, 10 tourney games ago. The Rebels' 100-80 victory over Nicholls marked only the second time since 2001 for the team to reach the century mark in points. 

  Ole Miss was on fire from the free throw line in Atlanta, shooting 83.3 percent in the two SEC Tournament games. The 22 makes against LSU was the Rebels’ most since the start of SEC play. The Rebels currently rank fourth in the conference in free throw percentage at 70.3. That figure is over 7 points better than last year’s 63.0 percentage and would be the highest since firing at a 72.6 clip in 2002-03. The Ole Miss upperclassmen are leading the charge with Todd Abernethy at 81.0, Clarence Sanders at 79.2, Bam Doyne at 77.4 and Dwayne Curtis at 73.6.
 However, Ole Miss has had nine games this season with 10 or less free throw attempts. The Rebels were at the foul line for only 2 shots at LSU and 4 at Saint Louis.

 With Dwayne Curtis slowed by injury, Kenny Williams stepped up in the SEC Tournament, averaging 10.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots in the two contests. His 12 points in the second-round game with LSU was his most against an SEC foe, while his 12 boards vs. Florida was his high.
 Williams has scored in double figures in five games against SEC teams. At Arkansas, he tallied 10 points, 8 rebounds and a career-high 4 assists. He struck for 10 points and 7 rebounds in the home win over Arkansas, and he amassed 10 points and 6 rebounds on the road against both Vanderbilt and LSU. Williams was also effective against Tennessee with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots and Auburn at home with 9 points, 4 boards and 2 blocks

 After a streaky first season in the Red and Blue, Clarence Sanders has been a steady point provider for the Rebels this year. The senior guard has scored in double-figures in all but three games and ranks fifth in the SEC at 16.4 points per game. He has turned in 11 20-point games and led or tied the team-lead in scoring 15 times. Sanders is second in the SEC in 3s per game (2.94) and eighth in the league in 3-point percentage (37.6). In SEC play, Sanders finished first in 3-pointers (3.50) and fourth in scoring (17.3). Also, after a 35.7 shooting clip a year ago, he boasts a 42.6 field goal percentage this season.
 Over the last 10 games, Sanders has averaged 18.2 points and led the scoring efforts six times, including his 21-point showing against Florida in the SEC Tournament semis. Twice in that span he tied his own school record for 3s against an SEC foe with 7. Sanders was 7-of-13 from long range in matching his career high of 29 points against the Bayou Bengals. The Phenix City, Ala., native also burned Auburn for 7-of-11 from downtown for 21 points on the Plains, and he fired in 4-of-6 from behind the arc in hanging 22 on Mississippi State. In last week’s win over Georgia, Sanders posted his 10th 20-point game of the year with 21, drilling 5 3-pointers. Also in SEC play, he struck for 16 and 18 points against Alabama, 17 at Florida and 20 against Tennessee. He lit up Auburn for 18 points at home and hit two 3s in the final 1:35 for the win.

 Bam Doyne has led the Rebel scoring in two of the last three games. After 19 points in the regular-season finale against Auburn, Doyne followed up with team highs of 26 points and 8 rebounds in the second-round win over LSU at the SEC Tournament. The senior guard has topped the team or tied for the team-lead in scoring in 11 games and in rebounds seven times this year. He is top-10 in the SEC in both scoring (15.4) and free throw accuracy (77.4). Doyne posted three 20-point games in SEC play and 10 total this year. He scored an even 20 at Auburn, and posted 23 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in the win over Mississippi State. Doyne had 22 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals at Vanderbilt, and in the regular-season final against Auburn, he dropped in 19 and broke a tied game with four free throws in the final three seconds. Doyne also led the way in the Alabama victory with 17 points.

 Todd Abernethy has raised his scoring average and assist total in each of his seasons as a Rebel, and this year, those figures are jumping once again as the senior has emerged as arguably the SEC’s best point guard. Abernethy is the SEC leader in assists per game (5.61) and ranks second in the nation in assist/turnover ratio (3.22). He had 9 assists with no turnovers at South Carolina, and 11 assists with only 1 TO against LSU.
 Abernethy is also averaging in double-figure points for the first time in his career at 10.9 ppg with a 12.3 clip in SEC action. The Carmel, Ind., native has registered a pair of 20-point games and his first two career double-doubles with 19 points and 10 assists against Mississippi State and 12 points and a career-high 11 assists against LSU. He narrowly missed the mark in the Auburn home win with 15 points and 9 assists. In addition, he is eighth in the SEC in minutes played at 33.32 per game.

 Since his return from a fractured foot late in non-conference play, Dwayne Curtis has notched 10 double-doubles, including six in SEC play. He has twice reached the 20-point, 10-rebound plateau this year, including his 20 and 12 performance in the home win over Arkansas. Curtis also shined with season highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds against Alabama A&M. He narrowly missed that mark at Auburn, scorching his former team for 19 points and 11 boards. Curtis posted 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Wildcats and all-star center Randolph Morris, and he tallied 11 points and 12 boards against LSU and All-American Glen Davis. On Wednesday, he hit for 12 points and 10 rebounds against Alabama and their vaunted frontcourt of Davidson and Hendrix. Curtis just missed double-doubles against Tennessee (18 points and 9 rebounds), Mississippi State (14 points and 8 boards), Alabama (14 points and 8 rebounds). He also scored 14 points in two of the last three games against Georgia and South Carolina. Curtis ranks fifth in the SEC in rebounding (8.3) and sixth in field goal percentage (52.8).

Todd Abernethy: The fourth-year Rebel missed the first game of his career against Louisiana-Lafayette. He was injured three minutes into the season opener after his head collided with an opposing player's shoulder on a screen. He suffered a slight concussion and had five stitches over his right eye. After sitting out the ULL game, the three-time Team Captain returned to the Ole Miss starting lineup with 13 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds against Fairfield.
Dwayne Curtis: The junior center suffered a stress fracture of the third metatarsal in his left foot in the third day of preseason practice and missed the first eight games of the year. In his second game back, the preseason All-SEC honoree reached a double-double less than 15 minutes into the UL-Monroe contest and finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. He nearly repeated that feat at South Alabama with 16 points and 9 boards, and against UIC, he registered 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Bam Doyne: The senior forward has tallied multiple steals in eight games, including a career-high tying 4 against Arkansas ... Prior to game seven of the SEC slate at Vanderbilt, Doyne's previous 20-point game was a 22-point outburst in the non-conference finale at Saint Louis. During an impressive non-league season, he scored a career-high 28 in the win at South Alabama and a pair of 25-point outings against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe. Doyne has also turned in his first two career double-doubles with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Nicholls and 20 points and a career-best 12 boards against Fairfield.
Trey Hampton: Playing in only his sixth game in SEC play, Hampton tipped in a pair of baskets for 4 points and tied the team-lead in rebounds with 5 at South Carolina. Both were SEC highs this year. The sophomore forward had one previous bucket in league play (in the opener), and his rebound total was the most since the fifth game of the year (6 at UConn) ... Hampton appeared in the starting lineup for only the second time this season at Mississippi State. He played 6 minutes and connected on 1-of-2 free throws. Hampton made 9 starts as a freshman a year ago ... After missing two games with sickness, the sophomore forward returned to the court against New Orleans and added 5 points and 4 boards ... Hampton enjoyed his best game of the year against Central Arkansas. With Kenny Williams slowed by a sprained ankle, Hampton earned his first start of 2006-07 and posted season highs in minutes (25), points (8), rebounds (5) and assists (2). He was also 2-of-4 from behind the arc.
Xavier Hansbro: After making no starts as a rookie, the sophomore forward received the starting nod in the season’s first two games. In his first career start in the opening win over Mississippi Valley State, the Trezevant, Tenn., native responded with his second double-digit scoring outing as a Rebel, dropping in 11 points along with 6 rebounds. Coincidentally, Hansbro’s only other double-figure game was in last year’s season opener, when he hit 4-of-6 3-pointers for 12 points against Southern Utah.
Greg Hardy: Since suiting up for his first game with the Rebel basketball team against Alabama A&M, the two-sport athlete has seen action in 13 games and earned his first career start at LSU. Hardy has saved his best outings for the defending national champion Florida. He was 3-for-3 for a career-high 6 points with 4 rebounds against the Gators in the SEC Tournament semifinals. With Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell both fouling out in Gainesville, Hardy saw 12 minutes of action and posted 3 points, 4 rebounds and a steal, giving him 6 takeaways over a four-game span. He posted a season-high 5 rebounds with 2 points and 2 steals at Mississippi State ... A freshman from Memphis who is also a member of the Ole Miss football team, Hardy began practicing with the team on Nov. 27, following the Rebels’ Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State in the season finale on the gridiron. As a rookie on the football team, Hardy played in all 12 games on the defensive line, tying for the team-lead in sacks (3.0) and ranking fifth in total tackles (49). His four fumble recoveries also tied for third in the SEC, and against MSU, he saw his first action at wide receiver and hauled in a 23-yard touchdown.
Rodney Jones: The freshman guard scored his first basket in SEC play at Arkansas, going 1-for-1 with 2 points and 1 rebound in 6 minutes. Jones has seen action in eight games against league foes with the most minutes, 7, coming at Florida.
Andy Ogide: After playing in only three of the first 12 games, the freshman forward received the starting nod for the first time in his career in the win over Alabama A&M. Ogide saw 11 minutes of action and posted 3 points and 5 rebounds. He had his best game against Louisiana-Monroe with 7 points on 3-for-3 shooting.
Jermey Parnell: The junior forward turned in his first career double-double against Georgia, posting SEC highs of 11 points and 10 rebounds. Besides that, Parnell has not scored more than 6 points against a league foe this year and reached that mark on four occasions. He totaled 6 points and 5 rebounds in each of the final two regular-season games ... Parnell has returned to the starting lineup in four of the last five games. Prior to that, he made one other start in SEC action against Arkansas at home. Parnell started 11 straight games during non-conference play ... After only five double-figures scoring games in his first two seasons, the junior forward has already scored 10 or more points seven times this year. In the win over Tennessee Tech, Parnell tallied 14 points and 8 rebounds, and he followed up with 13 points and 4 boards against Nicholls. Against New Orleans, the Gosnell, Ark., native established a career high in scoring with 16 points, going 5-for-5 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw stripe.
Eniel Polynice: The freshman guard has earned the starting nod in eight games against SEC teams, including six straight at one point. In the SEC Tournament second round, Polynice turned in his best game since non-conference season, tallying 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in the win over LSU. It was his fourth double-digit scoring performance. He got his first career start at Vanderbilt and responded with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. Polynice also totaled 7 points and 3 assists in the win over LSU and 6 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals ... For the fourth time this season, Polynice helped energize a big Rebel run in the second-half comeback at Florida. During Ole Miss' 29-11 outburst on the Gators, the Sarasota, Fla., native scored 8 points and collected 3 steals, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in helping bring a 25-point deficit down to 7 ... The freshman guard had his best game as a Rebel against New Orleans, knocking down 4-of-4 3-pointers in totaling 15 points, 3 assists and 3 steals. Polynice dropped in 12 of his points in the second half in helping Ole Miss rally from 7 down early in the stanza. He followed up with 10 points in a career-high 29 minutes at Memphis. Down 12-3 early, Polynice came off the bench to score three of the next four Ole Miss baskets to help ignite a 21-11 Rebel run ... Polynice also sparked Ole Miss in the victory over Central Arkansas in the HCF Classic. With the Rebels clinging to a 2-point advantage midway through the second half, Polynice drilled a pair of 3-pointers and scored 8 points in 2:18 to push the lead up to 10. 
Clarence Sanders: In six SEC contests, the Rebels erased deficits late with Sanders spearheading the rallying efforts. The senior guard scored 15 of his team-high 17 points in the second stanza at Florida, as Ole Miss reeled off a 29-11 against the nation's No. 1. He followed with 18 second-half points against Tennessee to help the Rebels go from 10 down at the break to a 83-69 victory. Sanders dropped in 11 after the break at Vanderbilt and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 32-16 run and provide Ole Miss a 1-point lead. Against Alabama, he led the Rebels from 7 points down with 10:10 left to a 75-69 win, scoring 11 of the team's final 12 points. Sanders struck again in the home victory over LSU, when he scored 7 points during the team’s game-ending 12-5 run, including the go-ahead jumper with less than a second left for the 71-70 win. His latest heroics occurred Saturday, when he hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:35 to overcome Auburn. The Rebels were down by 4 points when he fired the first trey, and his second bomb tied the game with 39 ticks left ... At one point this year, Sanders hit 11 straight shots, posting a perfect second half against UIC and connecting on his first five attempts against Alabama A&M. In the win over UIC, Sanders connected on 4-of-6 treys in leading the Rebels with 20, and he netted his first four 3s in scoring 23 against Alabama A&M. Sanders drilled 4-of-7 treys in pouring in 22 points against Louisiana-Lafayette, and he struck for a team-high 21 against Fairfield and 20 against Nicholls.
Brian Smith: The junior guard shot 48.1 percent from the field (13-of-27) and 47.6 from 3-point range (10-of-21) in league play. He scored 5 or more points in five games, including when he hit a pair of late 3-pointers at Alabama. Smith was 2-for-2 from the field in scoring 5 points against both Mississippi State and Tennessee. He also came off the bench to hit a key trey with 8:11 left in the home win over Arkansas, and was 2-for-2 from behind the arc during the Rebels' 29-11 second-half comeback at Florida. In addition, he hit a crucial 3-pointer in the midst of the Rebels' late game-winning rally against Alabama ... Smith was a hero in the home win over LSU. Down by a point with the Tigers burning the clock, Smith got the steal with 6 seconds left that led to Clarence Sanders’ game-winning basket. Smith also deflected LSU’s inbound pass on their last-second possession ... Smith earned his second career start at Vanderbilt. He played 19 minutes and collected 3 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists ... With starting point guard Todd Abernethy leaving with injury in the game's opening moments, Smith stepped in admirably in the season opener, helping lead the Rebels to the 72-49 victory over Mississippi Valley State. Smith played 21 minutes and recorded career highs of 10 points and 4 rebounds. He connected on 4-of-7 field goals, including 2-of-4 treys. With Abernethy still out, the 5-foot-11 Smith earned his first career start against Louisiana-Lafayette and saw 17 minutes of action.
Kenny Williams: The junior forward leads Ole Miss in field goal percentage at 55.4 percent and 59.5 in SEC play. He was 6-for-6 in the SEC tourney win over LSU ... Williams notched multiple blocked shots in a game for the 12th time this year and for the second-straight game with a pair against LSU Friday. He collected a career-high 3 against Alabama. He is 13th in the SEC in blocks (1.13) ... Williams has turned in two double-doubles, including a 13-point, career-high 13-rebound effort against Alabama A&M. Williams had his best game as a Rebel against Nicholls with his first double-double, posting career highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds. He also hit for 15 points and 6 boards against New Orleans and 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals against Tennessee Tech.

  Ole Miss is making its 21st television appearance, tying the school record set in 2001-01. This marks the ninth straight season that Ole Miss has played 10 or more TV games. Wedneday’s contest is the Rebels’ fourth of the year on CSS and the fifth to be streamed live over the internet on's premium site, The Rebels have been on Lincoln Financial six times, while five games were played on FSN. Ole Miss and Mississippi State renewed their bitter rivalry in Oxford with an ESPN "Super Tuesday" showdown, while the Connecticut game was on ESPNU. Also in non-conference play, the Rebels were in front of the cameras four times on SportsSouth.




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