January 9, 2008

Rebels prove they're for real

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- The streets around Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena are tilted steeply. And while the court inside the arena isn't the Rebels spent much of the game playing uphill.

But Ole Miss climbed and climbed, even leading by four with 2 minutes left, but the Rebels just couldn't keep going.

When the clock finally reached 0:00, it was the No. 8 Volunteers celebrating an 85-83 win Wednesday.

And it hurts.

"A lot of people will take a moral victory. We're way beyond that at Ole Miss. I know people don't want to believe that," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "That group is crushed in there.

"I've got grown men crying."

Chris Warren led all scorers with a career-high 24 points. But after a Tyler Smith basket in the paint with less than 5 seconds remaining, Warren didn't come through in his last chance.

Kennedy elected not to use his final timeout, and the Rebels got the ball to Warren. But the Rebels' electric freshman rushed a shot inside half court.

"I played alright," Warren said. "But I'm not satisfied. We didn't get the victory.

"I'm all about winning. If we didn't get the win, I didn't play too good."

Kennedy said he wasn't surprised with Warren's first SEC effort even with it coming in front a very loud sellout crowd of 21,846.

"I didn't have any doubts he would (handle it)," Kennedy said. "Chris Warren's a special player. He's a kid that's unflappable. I didn't think the crowd bothered him at all."

Ole Miss missed a chance to grab the lead with under a minute when Kenny Williams missed the front end of a one-and-one.

Williams got to the foul line after the Rebels battled inside. Senior Dwayne Curtis missed two tries near the rim, and he appeared to be fouled.

"I guess they can't see them all," Curtis said.

Sophomore Eniel Polynice scored 20 points and Curtis added 15 points and 13 rebounds in the loss.

Tennessee opened the game with six-straight points and began the second half with a 14-4 run.

"Maybe we didn't come out mentally ready," Warren said.

And after the Rebels fell behind early, they had to deal with a hot-shooting Tennessee team.

Tennessee made 7-of-11 three-point shots in the first half.

"They spread the floor on you," Kennedy said. "We had a very difficult time guarding them. When they make shots like that, I was worried it could be a long night."

But Ole Miss and Tennessee lived up to all the hype in the first 20 minutes. Both teams executed at a high rate, with the Volunteers grabbing a one-point halftime lead.

Ole Miss got 15 first-half points from Warren and 10 from Polynice, and JuJuan Smith paced Tennessee with 16 points. JuJuan Smith and Tyler Smith finished with 21 points each to lead Tennessee.

Ole Miss played much of the second half without senior Jermey Parnell. Parnell rose and picked up his third blocked shot of the game, but landed awkwardly on his right angle.

Parnell left the game with a high-ankle sprain, and his return hasn't been determined.

Ole Miss returns to Oxford on Saturday for its SEC home opener, as the Rebels host LSU at 5 p.m.

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