February 26, 2011 11:09:00 PM
OXFORD -- The University of Mississippi''s Chris Warren darted to his left and then sprinted down the lane toward the basket, taking on all five Alabama defenders as he flew through the air for an acrobatic layup.
For most players, it would have been a bad decision. For Warren, it''s another two points.
"I''m never nervous when he''s shooting the ball," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Warren scored 25 points, including 18 in the second half, and Zach Graham added 17 as the Ole Miss men''s basketball team overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half to beat Alabama 68-63 on Saturday.
Ole Miss (18-11, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) won for just the second time in five games, and split the season series with the Crimson Tide.
Warren, a 5-foot-10 senior who passed 1,900 career points during the game, made 9 of 11 free throws and added five assists and two steals. But the bold layup over the defense was the defining moment. It gave the Rebels a 64-58 lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining.
"That just felt like the right play," Warren said. "I got by one guy and nobody really committed."
Alabama has been the best defensive team in the SEC all season, giving up just 57.9 points per game. The Rebels struggled to score against the Tide, but hit the big shots when they needed them.
Graham had a double-double, with 10 rebounds to go with his 17 points.
The win was galvanizing for the Rebels, who have struggled with consistency and almost certainly need to win the SEC tournament to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
The Rebels are still in contention for the second place spot in the SEC''s Western Division, which would give them a bye in the SEC tournament''s first round.
"We really wanted to emphasize this game," Graham said. "We didn''t want (Alabama) to get a lot of points in the paint because that''s where they hurt us the first game. That was one of our plans and we executed it."
Alabama (19-9, 11-3) had a four-game winning streak snapped. The Crimson Tide have already clinched the SEC''s Western Division championship, but hurt their NCAA tournament at-large hopes with the loss.
JaMychal Green scored 17 points to lead the Crimson Tide. Chris Hines scored 15 and Tony Mitchell added 13.
Ole Miss led 35-30 at halftime, but Alabama started the second half on a 21-5 run to take a 51-40 lead with 13:34 remaining.
The Rebels fought back, taking a 59-58 lead on two Warren free throws with 3:36 remaining. They never trailed again, fighting off the Crimson Tide even after leading shot blocker Reggie Buckner fouled out with more than four minutes remaining.
Alabama coach Anthony Grant was called for a technical foul with 2:42 remaining after the Crimson Tide were called for a foul. The Rebels made 3 of 4 free throws to stretch their lead to 62-58 and capture momentum for the game''s final crucial possessions.
"I disagreed with the call," Grant said. "They called it -- that''s their right. It looked like contact going to the rim. I''ll look at the replay and maybe I''ll owe them an apology."
Alabama had a chance to tie the game, trailing 66-63 with 17 seconds remaining. But Trevor Releford turned the ball over and Graham hit two free throws at the other end to seal the victory.
"I wish we had a couple possessions back," Hines said. "But they executed down the stretch better than we did."
2. Harris, Heritage Academy will count on seniors to lead way HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Howland likes MSU's non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Central Academy hopes to contend for state title HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Walters column: Prep football season coming closer LOCAL COLUMNS