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November 16, 2010

Rebels look for resume-enhancer against Murray State

OXFORD, Miss. -- The NCAA tournament is five full months away.

Ole Miss can begin paving its path into that elusive field Wednesday.

Murray State, which returns six of its top eight players from a team that knocked off Vanderbilt and lost by just two points to eventual national runner-up Butler in last season's NCAA tournament, will be in Oxford Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Tad Smith Coliseum.

"We'll have to raise our level," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "Their guards are as good as we'll face, most definitely, in the non-league. I think all three of them could play in the SEC. They've got size. They've got athleticism and they've got depth."

The Rebels (1-0) won their season opener this past Friday over Arkansas State. Murray State (1-0) opened its season Monday with an 11-point home win over East Tennessee State. The date with the Racers is part of an early non-league slate that Kennedy hopes prepares his team for Southeastern Conference play all the while boosting its' all-important RPI.

Ole Miss entertains Dayton Saturday at 6 p.m. and Big Ten member Penn State on Nov. 26 in Oxford. The Rebels travel to Miami (Fla.) on Nov. 30, host Southern Miss on Dec. 4 and travel to Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 11. All of those teams, opening night victim Arkansas State, are expected to challenge for titles in their respective conferences.

"Our first seven …is going to be a challenge, but we set it up like this because we need to see where we are and in these type games, I think you find out a lot about your team," Kennedy said.

Murray State, which returns three starters off a team that went 17-1 in the Ohio Valley Conference last season, won with defense Monday, taking the lead for good with on B.J. Jenkins' 3-pointer with 6:05 left in the first half.

Donte Poole's steal and subsequent layup with 7:50 left in the game gave Murray State a 14-point lead, the Racers' largest advantage of the night. Jenkins led Murray State with 14 points. Ivan Aska had a team-high seven rebounds.

"No one got frustrated and I thought that was a key in us winning the game," Murray State coach Billy Kennedy said. "I think that helped us because I thought they got frustrated at times and I liked our composure."

Ole Miss, meanwhile, overcame an 11-point deficit against Arkansas State Friday, thanks in large part to Chris Warren's 20-point second half. The Rebels' All-SEC guard finished with a game-high 26 points in Ole Miss' 68-60 win. Kennedy said he knows Ole Miss will need contributions from elsewhere to continue winning.

"You've got to have three primary scorers to have a chance over the course of a four- or five-month season," Kennedy said. "You've got to have three guys who on a given night can put up a good number for you and I think we have that. I honestly think we have four or five guys who on a given night can hurt you offensively. It just so happens that we didn't shoot the ball very well and we weren't as productive offensively from an efficiency standpoint as I would like to be."


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