- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2016

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - There was no celebrating Thursday night for the Mississippi Rebels, despite an impressive 92-58 win over South Alabama, highlighted by Sebastian Saiz’s 23-point, 16-rebound performance.

“There were moments we looked like a good team and that was encouraging,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “We’re improving and it’s time. The schedule is about to get real very quickly.”

The Rebels (9-3) host No. 6 Kentucky Thursday in the SEC opener, followed by consecutive road games at Florida and Auburn.

DeAndre Burnett scored 21 points, Justas Furmanavicius had 13, Cullen Neal added 11 and Terence Davis had 10 points to lead Ole Miss (9-3). The Rebels had 23 assists, nine by Neal.

The Rebels shot 29 of 59 (49 percent), including 8 of 22 from 3-point range, and outrebounded South Alabama 50-35.

Nick Stover and Georgi Boyanov led South Alabama (7-6) with 17 and 10 points, respectively. Don MuepoKelly had 10 rebounds.

The Jags trailed 46-26 at halftime and managed only 19-of-66 shooting (29 percent), including 5 of 23 from 3-point range.

“Our defense kept us in it until late in the first half,” said South Alabama coach Matthew Graves, whose club opened 3 of 23 from the field.

“There comes a point where you have to score baskets and that came late for us. Our guys will keep fighting.”

The Jaguars battled to within 61-48 midway through the second half, but Ole Miss ran off 19 straight points over five minutes to erase any doubt.

BIG PICTURE

South Alabama: The Jaguars had early wins against UNLV and Florida International, but have struggled since Thanksgiving, going 2-6. South Alabama opened Thursday night’s game 3 of 23 from the field and never seriously threatened.

Ole Miss: Picked ninth in the preseason SEC media poll, the guard-rich Rebels have quietly put together a 9-3 nonconference record. In the past five seasons, Ole Miss has finished higher than what they were picked in the preseason media poll. The Rebels are 4-1 in December.

BENCH STRENGTH

Burnett and Furmanavicius had strong reserve performances along with Rasheed Brooks - best known for his shooting skills - with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.

“Justas really gave us an energy boost,” Kennedy said. “For the first time, he finished plays in traffic and he got on the defensive boards better. We’re going to need that.”

FASHION STATEMENT

Kennedy, at 6-foot-7, normally makes conservative clothing choices, but broke out a loud, red-plaid, Christmas-themed sports coat which reminded reporters of former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson’s traditional plaid attire in sports coats.

“I’m the new spokesperson for scotch guard plaid sports coats,” said a smiling Kennedy, who showed off the brightly colored coat in the postgame press conference. “I think it looks pretty good.”

UP NEXT

South Alabama opens Sun Belt Conference play by hosting Troy on Jan. 2.

Ole Miss hosts No. 6 Kentucky on Thursday to open the SEC season, followed by road trips to Florida and Auburn, all of which should go a long way in revealing just how good this team can be.

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