February 17, 2011 8:30:00 AM
OXFORD -- Zach Graham has spent the majority of his career as a complementary player, content to knock down a few shots, play tough defense and do the things that usually go unnoticed in a box score or by the casual observer.
But on a career night for the senior, there was no doubt he was the best player on the floor.
Graham shattered his previous high with 30 points as Mississippi cruised to a 90-59 victory over Auburn on Wednesday night at Tad Smith Coliseum. The 6-foot-6 guard was consistent from start to finish, scoring 14 points in the first half and 16 more in the second half on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including 7 of 11 from 3-point range.
"Coach keeps telling us to play with confidence and tonight we did," Graham said. "We''ve been working hard, but our work''s not done. Our backs are against the wall. It was a good win tonight and we want it to carry over."
Chris Warren scored 15 points and Terrance Henry added 14 as the Rebels never trailed, using a 19-5 run late in the first half to turn a three-point advantage into a 39-22 halftime lead.
But the Rebels were just getting started. They hit almost everything thrown toward the basket in the second half, making 70 percent (14 of 20) of their shots from the field, 60 percent from 3-point range (6 of 10) and 89.5 percent (17 of 19) from the free-throw line.
Henry scored all of his 14 points in the second half.
"Offensively, it was a feel-good game for us," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
The Rebels scored 90 points for the first time since dumping 100 on Alcorn State on Dec. 30. Ole Miss, which has routinely been one of the highest-scoring teams in the SEC during Kennedy''s five-year tenure, had failed to break 70 points in the past three games.
"I just think we''ve really been pressing," Kennedy said. "Hopefully tonight, making shots and getting out and scoring with our team-high in league play, that will relax us a little offensively."
Ole Miss (17-9, 5-6 Southeastern Conference) has won four out of its past five games to keep its slim NCAA tournament at-large bid hopes alive. The Rebels have a favorable schedule in the regular season''s final few weeks -- only one out of their remaining five opponents has a winning conference record.
Auburn (9-16, 2-9) was coming off its biggest win of the season, beating Mississippi State after trailing by 19 in the second half. But the Tigers never led against the Rebels, done in by poor defense and shoddy shooting as Ole Miss shot 56.8 percent from the field for the game.
Chris Denson led Auburn with 16 points. The Tigers'' five starters combined for just 26 points.
"As bad as we were in every phase of the game, they were that good," Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. "It was one of those nights. We were passive -- very passive."
Graham''s had a steady senior season, averaging more than 14 points per game. But he''s usually been overshadowed by Warren, who is among the SEC''s leaders with 18.6 points per game.
Kennedy said Graham''s production will be needed if the Rebels want to make a charge into the NCAA tournament discussion. Ole Miss has missed bids to the tournament in two of the past four seasons, and hasn''t been to the Big Dance since 2002, which is the SEC''s longest drought.
"(Graham) wants it, man," Kennedy said. "He''s playing with a great sense of urgency. We all know he''s a super kid. Maybe he can exhale a little bit and give us a big lift down the stretch."
1. Southern Mississippi beats MSU in Pearl COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Mississippi players help MSU grow softball in state COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Tight ends could play bigger role for Mullen's Bulldogs COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Energized Bulldogs push on to Sweet 16 LOCAL COLUMNS
5. New Hope loses to Oxford in region opener HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS