Ole Miss rebounds to hand Vandy fourth loss in five games

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) -- The rest of the Southeastern Conference might want to take notice of Mississippi's Eniel Polynice.

The small forward relentlessly drove to the basket for 18 points Wednesday night in the Rebels' 74-58 much-needed victory over Vanderbilt (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) and rendered Shan Foster, one of the SEC's top scorers, ineffective.

"Polynice was better off the dribble than we were about getting in front of him and he was a great finisher," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "He had six layups in the first half and five came against one guy."

That one guy was likely Foster, though Stallings didn't want to identify the player after he made the comment. But Ole Miss players were well aware of the score after Polynice's tough all-around game.

He finished with five assists, four rebounds and two blocks and sealed the game with a steal and dunk with about three minutes left. As important, he held Foster, the SEC's No. 2 scorer, five points below his average of 19 per game.

"E.P.'s always on the other team's best man," Ole Miss' Dwayne Curtis said.

Polynice provided most of the highlights -- including three eye-popping reverse layups off baseline drives -- but it was Ole Miss' freshmen who pulled the game out when Vanderbilt rallied in the second half.

Led by Chris Warren, freshmen scored 18 of Ole Miss' first 26 points in the pivotal opening minutes of the second half as the Rebels (16-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) stopped a two-game losing streak and sent the Commodores (17-4, 2-4) to their fourth loss in five games.

The game was vital for two teams slumping after setting school records for consecutive wins to start the season.

Ole Miss (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 24 AP) ended a six-game losing streak to Vanderbilt and remained in the SEC West race behind one-loss Mississippi State after a brutal January run that included games against three ranked opponents.

In his first start, freshman guard Zach Graham scored nine points and may have provided the answer the Rebels have been searching for at shooting guard. His five straight points to open the second half were part of a halftime-spanning 19-5 run that helped Ole Miss break open the game.

Warren also had five points in the run and Trevor Gaskins, another freshman, ended the spurt with a 3-point shot, putting Ole Miss up 44-31 with 14:45 remaining.

Warren had a game-high 20 points and scored 16 in the second half.

After criticizing his young perimeter players following an 88-68 loss Saturday at Mississippi State, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he turned down the pressure before the Vanderbilt game.

"Sometimes you want to yell and scream at them," Kennedy said. "And sometimes you have to bake cookies for them, and I've got to mindful when to push and when to back off."

Another slow start doomed Vanderbilt. The Commodores trailed the Rebels 29-26 at halftime. It was third time in the four losses they failed to reach 30 points in the first half and followed a 22-point loss at Florida where they scored just six points in the first 11 1/2 minutes.

The Rebels, in one of their best defensive efforts of the season, held the Commodores to 32.3 percent shooting in the first half and 34.9 percent overall. Vanderbilt missed 41 shots and 20 3-pointers after coming in as the nation's No. 8 scoring offense, averaging 83.9 points.

The Rebels also held A.J. Ogilvy under his season average with 10 points three days after Florida kept both Foster and Ogilvy in single digits.

Kenny Williams added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Ole Miss and had a crucial steal and transition dunk with six minutes left that helped the Rebels pull away.

Ole Miss tied the school mark for best start through 19 games and improved to 26-1 at home in two years under Kennedy.

The home team has won 19 of the last 22 in the Ole Miss-Vandy series.

"It had been a long time," Warren said. "It had been nearly two weeks since we'd won a game, so it was good to get a breakthrough."