SOUTHAVEN, Miss. (AP)—Mississippi showed a little of the muscle it will need when the Southeastern Conference season starts in a couple weeks.
Chris Warren scored 17 points, Eniel Polynice was an assist shy of a triple-double and No. 22 Ole Miss got physical in a 78-58 win over Southern Miss that set the Rebels’ school record for consecutive wins to start the season.
“This is probably the most physical game we’ve played all year,” Polynice said. “This is a learning experience. Hopefully we can learn from this and get ready to go to the SEC and get better.”
Warren got things started with 13 points in the first half and Polynice and Dwayne Curtis scored the bulk of their points as Ole Miss held Southern Miss (8-5) scoreless over the final 6 1/2 minutes.
The Rebels, ranked for the first time since the final Associated Press poll of the 2000-01 season, went on a 23-7 run to end the game and finally put away the pesky Golden Eagles, who matched Ole Miss run for run in an entertaining game that was close until late.
“I’m sure they had a chip on their shoulder,” Warren said. “They wanted to be the first team to knock us off now that we’re ranked. We still came out and played pretty well.”
The Rebels’ 12th straight win set the school record for consecutive victories to start the season. The Rebels started the 1936-37 and 2000-01 seasons with 11 straight wins. Both years, they finished with 20 or more victories.
The win also tied the school record for consecutive wins in a season, set in 1926. Ole Miss can break that mark with a win over Alabama A&M on Jan. 2 in Oxford. Then it’s on to No. 11 Tennessee in Knoxville to start the conference schedule.
Warren started two runs that helped Ole Miss wipe out an early Southern Miss lead, including a personal 7-1 run that straddled halftime and featured a 3-pointer from 30 feet as time expired in the first half.
Eight of Warren’s points came midway through the first half in a 17-4 run that the point guard started with back-to-back 3-pointers. By the time he finished the spurt with two free throws, Ole Miss had wiped out an eight-point deficit to take a 33-27 lead with 2:25 left until halftime.
His 3-pointer to end the half made it 40-34 and his four points to start the second half gave Ole Miss a 44-35 lead, its largest to that point.
Warren got things started, but Ole Miss had to come up with a different winning scenario as he sat for 7:43 of the last 10:39 because of foul trouble. It was the first time this season Warren, who is the SEC’s reigning freshman of the week after being chosen most valuable player in last weekend’s San Juan Shootout, has missed significant time with foul trouble.
Curtis scored nine of his 15 points during the game-ending run and Polynice added seven, however, to finish off the Golden Eagles. Polynice had 14 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists as Ole Miss outscored Southern Miss 34-22 in the paint and 15-4 on second-chance baskets.
R.L. Horton scored the last of his 23 points with 6:45 left to cut Ole Miss’s lead to 64-58, but the Rebels turned the defensive pressure up and took advantage of their depth to hold the Golden Eagles scoreless.
Curtis and Polynice scored all of their field goals during the final run on layups or free throws earned in the paint.
Jeremy Wise added 17 for Southern Miss. But the Golden Eagles got little from their squad beyond the play of Horton and Wise, who were forced to play much of the game against Ole Miss’ deeper backcourt.
“We had guys out there too long and it bothered us,” Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said.