OXFORD, Miss. (AP)—Mississippi’s David Huertas has found his shot just in time.
Huertas scored 17 points in an 86-50 victory over Alabama A&M on Wednesday night that helped No. 18 Ole Miss win its school-record 13th straight game.
After a six-week cold spell that left the guard despondent at times, the transfer from Florida is finally performing like the Rebels were expecting with the Southeastern Conference opener looming.
“He’s way more confident,” teammate Eniel Polynice said. “He’s not losing focus. He’s part of our team. We’re going to need him when the SEC comes, too.”
Huertas, hitting just 28.6 percent of his 3-pointers coming in, helped Ole Miss start fast with consecutive 3s and an assist on an alley-oop dunk during a 13-0 run over the first 2:48. His 3-pointer off his own steal put the Rebels ahead 33-11 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the half and he finished 5-for-9 from behind the 3-point line.
It was the first time this season he has made more than three 3s and hit better than 50 percent.
He helped the Rebels break the record for consecutive wins, set in 1926, and extend the mark for victories to start a season. Huertas, a native of Puerto Rico, said he started to come around during the team’s three-game sweep in the San Juan Shootout last month.
“I feel much better,” Huertas said. “It took eight or nine games for me to get my timing back. I didn’t play much as a freshman and I sat out all last year.”
The Rebels also got 15 points and seven assists from Chris Warren, 13 points from Polynice and 10 points and 10 rebounds from Dwayne Curtis as they ran away from the Bulldogs (3-7), who were led by LaNorris Smith with 12 points.
Polynice, another player whose game is coming around, scored the first five points of the game and had two layups in an 11-0 run that made it 30-9 with 7:20 left in the first half. Trevor Gaskins’ 3-pointer gave Ole Miss a 28-point lead with a minute to go on the way to a 46-19 halftime lead.
Turnovers fueled both runs and Ole Miss scored 17 points on 13 turnovers in the first half. The Rebels had eight steals and held the Bulldogs to 24.1 percent shooting in the half and 31 percent overall.
The Rebels overpowered Alabama A&M in the paint 44-20, scored 18 second-chance points and had 19 in transition.
“I was proud of the kids,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “They took a business-like approach. I thought defensively we were really good.”
Though undefeated, the Rebels still have plenty of doubters. Picked to finish last in the SEC West for the second straight season, the defending division co-champions are one of just six undefeated teams left this season.
They will be able to prove their critics wrong in the difficult stretch to start the SEC schedule. They face their second ranked opponent after defeating Clemson in Puerto Rico when they open play at No. 8 Tennessee on Jan. 9.
After that Ole Miss hosts LSU and Florida, plays at Auburn and Mississippi State, then finishes January against No. 15 Vanderbilt, the SEC’s only other undefeated team.
“I do think we’re focused,” Kennedy said. “I know we’re going to be excited. Whether we’ll be able to get the job done remains to be seen.”