Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy is tired of his team’s poor first-half play against subpar opponents. He should be particularly wary against UTEP.
Needing late runs to win their last two games, the 20th-ranked Rebels look to avoid another bad start Wednesday night against the upset-minded Miners.
In its first contest since joining the Top 25, Mississippi (8-1) trailed at halftime Saturday but scored 55 points in the second half to rally for an 83-67 win over sub-.500 McNeese State. In the first half, the Rebels were 3 for 11 at the free-throw line and a step slow defensively.
“It’s unacceptable,” Kennedy said.
In its previous game, Ole Miss was down 36-32 at the half and trailed by six in the final minute before Eniel Polynice’s breakaway dunk with 2 seconds remaining lifted it to an 81-79 win over Southern Mississippi on Dec. 5.
“We need to stop doing that and come out strong. We’ve got to be more focused on the game before the game,” said Rebels guard Chris Warren, who made two late 3-pointers in that contest to help lead the comeback.
Ole Miss could face another tough first-half test. UTEP (5-1) has led at the half in all of its games this season.
“You’ve got to come out with the right mindset and take every team as if they’re a good team,” Polynice said.
Polynice, a former starter, came off the bench to spark the Rebels’ run versus McNeese State, scoring all 12 of his points in the final 10:10 and finishing with four key steals. The junior guard is averaging 10.0 points, 4.6 assists and 1.9 steals.
Warren tops Ole Miss with 17.8 points a contest, and he’s shooting 43.3 percent (26 for 60) from beyond the arc over his last seven games.
Warren is one of four players averaging double figures in scoring for Ole Miss, which has scored at least 80 points in six of its nine contests.
UTEP has been strong offensively, averaging 80.2 points, but its worst defensive game of the season led to its first defeat Sunday.
The Miners allowed New Mexico State to shoot 50.0 percent from the field in an 87-80 loss. UTEP, which led 45-35 entering the second half, had held each of its previous four opponents under 67 points.
“This was an awakening for us, and crisis brings out change,” coach Tony Barbee said.
Five Miners average at least 10 points, led by Randy Culpepper’s 18.0. The junior guard had a season-high 24 points and seven rebounds against New Mexico State.
Culpepper is joined in the backcourt by Christian Polk, averaging 11.7 points while shooting 47.6 percent from 3-point range.
Ole Miss beat UTEP 68-58 on Dec. 22, 2001, in the teams’ only previous meeting.