March 11, 2011 8:39:00 AM
ATLANTA -- The University of Mississippi men''s basketball team finally figured out how to win at the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Just keep scoring in bunches.
Chris Warren led with way with 20 points and the Rebels prevailed in a game of spurts, pulling away from South Carolina 66-55 Thursday in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
Ole Miss (20-12) had lost its opening tournament game three years in a row. Now, the Rebels have a chance to win two straight for the first time since 2001, though they''ll be facing No. 15 Kentucky in the quarterfinals Friday.
Bring ''em on, coach Andy Kennedy said.
"It really is the sadistic nature of coaches. I''m really looking forward to it. It''s going to be a great experience," he said. "At the end of the day, it''s about creating an experience for these kids."
The final run was the decisive one for the Rebels, who came into Atlanta knowing their only shot at the NCAAs was probably to win four games in four days. After South Carolina (14-16) closed to 50-45 with 9 1/2 minutes to go, Ole Miss put it away with an 11-1 run.
"Great effort. The execution still leaves a little to be desired," Kennedy said. "We knew they weren''t going to go away."
South Carolina''s season ended with a 20-of-67 performance (30 percent) from the field. Ramon Galloway led the Gamecocks with 17 points, but only one teammate, Sam Muldrow with 12, reached double figures.
"It''s hard to get a rhythm when shots are not falling," said Malik Cooke, who made just 2 of 12 attempts.
Warren, on the other hand, had plenty of help. Terrance Henry chipped in with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Dundrecous Nelson and Reginald Buckner had 10 points apiece.
Kennedy was more impressed with his team''s work at the defensive end.
"We made the decision to zone them," the coach said. "I thought the zone was very effective for us. They stayed in the game early off the offensive glass. And once we shored that are up and limited our turnovers, I thought the zone was very effective for us."
Right off the tip, South Carolina jumped to a quick 5-0 lead, but Ole Miss ripped off 17 straight points with a barrage of 3-pointers. Warren got it started with a trey, and Nelson hit two in a row from beyond the arc.
Bruce Ellington finally stopped the run, hitting a 3 for the Gamecocks, but Nelson came right back with his third 3-pointer of the half. Two straight dunks gave the Rebels their biggest lead of the opening period, 24-10.
"We got off the 3-shot well, which kept us in it until the whole team got together," Warren said.
Back came South Carolina, which turned things around with a 10-0 stretch of its own. The Gamecocks trailed 30-26 at the half.
After the break, more of the same. Ellington hit a free throw to start the half, then Ole Miss stretched it out again with 11 straight points. Warren connected again from 3-point range, Henry converted a three-point play after being fouled on a dunk, and Warren swished another beyond the arc for a 41-27 edge.
Galloway hit two straight 3s in South Carolina''s last gasp, making it 62-55 with 1:23 left.
The Gamecocks didn''t score again, going one-and-out at the league tournament for the third year in a row.
"I thought our pressure was very good," coach Darrin Horn said. "It got us back in the game. At the end of the day, we didn''t have enough stops. They got shots when they needed them, and we didn''t."