OXFORD, Miss. (AP)—It seems pretty simple to Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy: Build a lead, then keep it.
Yet the No. 16 Rebels struggled to hold a lead late for the second straight game Saturday. This time, though, Ole Miss won, beating LSU 74-71 on Saturday— three days after falling to No. 8 Tennessee in the final seconds.
“Unfortunately for us, we put ourselves in this position earlier in the season,” Kennedy said. “I thought we’d overcome it, but obviously we’ve still got something to learn.”
The Rebels (14-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) got 15 points apiece from Eniel Polynice and Chris Warren, and 10 points and 12 rebounds from Kenny Williams. They raced out to a 22-point lead in the first 30 minutes, but had to stop three rallies over the final 10 minutes to escape with the win.
Ole Miss led 83-79 with 2:22 remaining Wednesday in Knoxville, but let the Volunteers score the final six points in the Rebels’ first loss of the season. Overmatched LSU (7-9, 0-2), missing two starters and playing just eight, nearly pulled the same feat, missing two difficult 3-point attempts on its final two possessions.
“As a team we don’t have the killer instinct,” Williams said. “When you get them down, you’ve got to keep them down.”
The Rebels have won three straight over the Tigers and improved to 24-1 at home since Kennedy took over last season. It was the 14th straight loss for the Tigers on an opponent’s home court dating to December 2006. LSU is 1-8 this season away from Baton Rouge, including neutral site games.
Marcus Thornton, who cut Ole Miss’ lead to three with two straight 3-pointers in the final 33 seconds, scored 25 points, Anthony Randolph had 18 and Garrett Temple added 16 for LSU.
Ole Miss built its lead with the help of a 21-5 run that started with a 13-0 spurt fueled by five points from Warren and four from Polynice. Dwayne Curtis hit two short jumpers in the second half of the Rebels’ run and Malcolm White’s tip-in with 10:31 left made it 23-12.
The Rebels outscored the Tigers 14-4 in the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half. Ole Miss hit four 3-pointers over that span, including David Huertas’ 35-footer at the halftime buzzer for a 43-29 lead.
Ole Miss then pushed the lead to 22 points after holding LSU to nine points in the first 9 minutes of the second half. But LSU rallied with an 18-2 run that White, a freshman playing for injured starter Jeremy Parnell, ended by scoring four straight points. Curtis stopped a second rally with a three-point play that made it 69-61 with 2:02 left.
Thornton cut the lead to three in the final minute, but the Tigers were unable to get a clear 3-point shot on their last two possessions.
Kennedy called White the “MVP” after he finished with 12 points and six rebounds in his first significant playing time and Curtis had 11 points.
While the Rebels were left sorting out their problems, LSU coach John Brady was encouraged by the Tigers’ play in the last 10 minutes. They scored just 39 points in a conference season-opening loss to Mississippi State on Wednesday, but were buoyed by the return of Quintin Thornton from a pectoral muscle tear that has kept him out since December.
“We came here in front of a sold-out crowd and came from behind by that many points,” Brady said. “There’s something going on that might give us a chance.”