Rebels Advance To NIT Second Round With 83-68 Win Over Gauchos

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OXFORD, Miss. (AP)  Ole Miss reserve guard Rodney Jones had no expectations of playing a critical role in Wednesday's 83-68 win over UC Santa Barbara in the opening round of the National Invitational Tournament.

Jones, who played only 20 minutes in the regular season, turned in 22 minutes of brilliant defense against Alex Harris, the Co-Player of the Year in the Big West Conference.

The unexpected defensive contribution pushed the Rebels (22-10) into the quarterfinals Monday against the Nebraska-Charlotte winner. The loss finished UCSB, making their first NIT appearance in five years, to 23-9.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, without the services of starting guard Eniel Polynice, sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury, turned to Jones after the opening five minutes. By that time, the Gauchos had a 17-6 lead and Harris had connected on his first three shots from the field.

"My role is definitely defense and I tried to provide energy," Jones said. "I just tried to lock down the guy I guarded."

Harris finished with 20 points, but managed only 2-of-11 from the field against Jones and scored most of those points after the Rebels had built a double-digit lead in the final 15 minutes of play.

"Rodney Jones is a winner and he really brought something that our team really lacked, especially with Polynice out," Kennedy said. "The game began to turn around for us and he had a lot to do with that."

Dwayne Curtis and Kenny Williams, the inside tandem for the Rebels, got stronger as the game progressed. Curtis finished with 17 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, while Williams added 13 points and nine rebounds.

Chris Warren had 16 points, all in the second half and David Huertas added 15 for the Rebels, who dominated the boards by a 44-27 margin.

By halftime, the Rebels had rallied for a 37-36 lead and Warren sparked a decisive 11-0 run to give the Rebels a 50-40 lead with 14:17 left. The Gauchos never got closer than seven points again.

James Powell and Chris Devine added 18 and 14 points for UCSB, respectively. Powell was 6-of-9 from three-point range while Devine added six rebounds.

"Santa Barbara is an excellent team, 23 wins, 10 road wins and Harris is a great player," Kennedy said. "We had preached how good they were and in the first five minutes, they really got our attention. The good news is we survived and we're still playing."


 

 

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