- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy leaned into the microphone at his postgame press conference, flashed a smile and whispered softly.

“Coaches aren’t supposed to say this out loud, especially on a game this early in the season, but this was a must win for us,” said Kennedy, after his Rebels defeated Memphis 85-77 on Saturday.

Sebastian Saiz proved to be the decisive factor, scoring 20 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The Rebels made good use of the free-throw line, finishing 28 of 33 (85 percent), including 17 consecutive conversions in the final eight minutes.

Deandre Burnett scored 19 points and Cullen Neal added 12 for the Rebels (6-2), who used a 20-3 run in the second half to wipe out a 66-61 deficit.

“We played hard and I was proud of the effort,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “We had that one stretch where we just blew up. It began when we fouled a 3-point shooter and you can’t do that. We’ve got to play smarter, but Ole Miss made plays when they had to. Credit them.”

Memphis (6-2) was led by K. J. Lawson with 17 points, while Markel Crawford and Jeremiah Martin had 16 and 14 points, respectively. The Tigers used a 24-5 surge early in the second half to build a 62-57 lead with 9:50 left, but could not match Ole Miss in the final eight minutes.

Ole Miss was 25 of 58 (43 percent) from the field, while Memphis finished 26 of 61 (43 percent). The Tigers were 19 of 29 (66 percent) from the line and outrebounded Ole Miss 38-37, led by Dedric Lawson and Crawford with six apiece.

ROLE PLAYER

Kennedy has a habit of tinkering with starting lineups in nonconference games and inserted Neal after the opening six minutes. The transfer guard responded strongly with 12 points, three assists and a steal. His 3-point shot capped the decisive 20-3 burst, giving the Rebels an insurmountable 81-69 lead with 3:01 remaining.

TURNING POINT

Memphis finished with four starters at four fouls apiece and got only 13 points from the bench. The foul trouble and depth issues were especially obvious as Memphis was burned by the late 20-3 run. Ole Miss had only four turnovers in the second half and only one during the game-winning surge.

QUOTABLE

In the postgame press conference, explaining the adjustments made by Memphis during a 24-5 Tigers run, Kennedy said, “Tubby Smith is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: Leading scorer and rebounder Dedric Lawson was limited to eight points and six rebounds in 19 minutes. The Tigers still managed to build a five-point lead heading into the final eight minutes despite extended foul trouble.

Ole Miss: After a blowout home loss to Middle Tennessee State and trailing late in the second half to Memphis, the Rebels showed mental toughness and play-making ability with the late rally. Saiz consistently provided big plays in the second half on both ends of the floor.

UP NEXT

Memphis: Gets a week off before hosting Monmouth on Saturday

Ole Miss: Visits Virginia Tech on Dec. 11 before closing December with a four-game home stand.


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