Around this time last season, Mississippi was struggling to put together a healthy lineup. Now, it’s back in the Top 25 for the first time in nearly two years.
Warren and the No. 25 Rebels return to the court for the first time in a week when they host McNeese State on Saturday.
Mississippi (7-1) is looking to win its fourth straight following a week-long break for final exams. The Rebels began the week back in the Top 25 for the first time since Jan. 28, 2008, when they were ranked No. 24.
“I’m happy for our guys, but we realize it’s a long season and our team still has much to work on,” coach Andy Kennedy told the Rebels’ official Web site.
Kennedy’s team moved into the poll following a pair of victories last week. After winning at Arkansas State by 22 points, Mississippi pulled out an 81-79 victory over Southern Mississippi last Saturday.
Although the Rebels allowed the Eagles to shoot 53.3 percent, Mississippi made a season-high 12 3-pointers and Eniel Polynice dunked on a breakaway following a rebound and outlet pass by Chris Warren with two seconds remaining to rally Ole Miss from a 77-71 deficit in the final minute.
“At the end, it came down to a loose ball and we got the biggest one,” Kennedy said. “It was a great rebound and pass by Warren and a great finish by Polynice. That’s a hard play to make.”
Warren scored a team-high 20 points to go along with six assists, while Polynice added 15 points. It was the third 20-point game in the last five for Warren, who made six of the team’s 3-pointers. He’s shooting 45.8 percent (11 of 24) beyond the arc the last three games.
Polynice and Warren are combining to average 27.3 points and 7.4 assists, recovering nicely after both missed most of 2008-09 following separate season-ending knee injuries. Warren torn his ACL last December against Louisville, Polynice got hurt after Mississippi’s first game and reserve Trevor Gaskins was injured in the preseason.
Without the three, the Rebels finished 16-15 last season and missed the NCAA tournament. This time around, the Rebels are off to their best start since opening 2007-08 with 13 straight victories.
McNeese State (3-4) is looking to win its third straight after a slow start. The Cowboys are coming off their most decisive win since 2001, a 101-54 victory over NAIA school Paul Quinn College on Tuesday.
P.J. Alawoya scored 16 points to lead five players in double figures, while Jermaine Mitchell and Dontae Cannon each added 15. The Cowboys shot 56.5 percent and scored 51 points off 29 turnovers.
McNeese State is led by Stephan Martin, who is averaging 12.3 points and scored seven in 19 minutes against Paul Quinn.
Elbryan Neal is expected to join the Cowboys for this game and provide some depth after sitting out the first seven games because of eligibility requirements. Last season he averaged 5.0 points and 4.1 rebounds as one of the team’s top reserves.
The Rebels lead the all-time series against the Cowboys 6-1, including a 4-0 record in Oxford, Miss. The teams haven’t met since 1999, however, when Mississippi won 86-59 at Tad Smith Coliseum.