OXFORD, Miss. -- Devan Downey still got his points, but Mississippi (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) took the win.
The Southeastern Conference's most potent offensive player scored 25, but it was a ragged performance and South Carolina got little else as Ole Miss built an early lead, then held on for a 66-57 win on Wednesday night.
"I'm happy. It's a nine-point win in the SEC," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "It stops the bleeding. We move on."
The win was key for the Rebels (14-4, 2-2 SEC), who had lost two of their first three conference games, and showed they're evolving.
Ole Miss has blown a few early leads this season, including its most recent collapse at Tennessee, where the Rebels built a 12-point lead before losing 71-69 in overtime on Saturday.
They led by 16 against the Gamecocks (11-7, 2-2) in the first half. Downey led a second-half charge to cut the lead to six before Ole Miss ratcheted up the pressure and finished off the victory.
"It's a combination of experience, proper decisions with the ball, we defended better and I'm proud of the way we guarded," Kennedy said.
While the Rebels weren't always able to slow Downey, they did keep him off his game. He came in averaging more than 32 points per conference game and hadn't scored fewer than 29 against a league opponent.
Against the Rebels, though, he missed 13 of 20 shots, had four turnovers and scored seven points in the final 1:10 when the game was out of reach. They held him to nine in the first half on the way to a 38-23 halftime lead and allowed him just three second-half field goals.
Most of his points came from the free throw line where he hit 9 of 10 in the second half, but he wasn't able to get his team into a rhythm and the Gamecocks could get no closer than six before the Rebels put it away.
Ole Miss changed defenses against Downey constantly and used bigger players such as Eniel Polynice to guard him.
Downey shrugged off the Rebels' defensive game plan when asked about it after the game.
"It's basketball," he said. "It's basketball."
The Rebels built an early lead after a slow start. The Gamecocks opened with a basket and held Ole Miss scoreless for the first 2:11. But once Polynice stole the ball at halfcourt and dropped in a layup to jumpstart the Rebels' offense, the team rolled to a 16-4 run fueled by six early South Carolina turnovers and 3-pointers from Rebels point guard Chris Warren and Trevor Gaskins.
Downey ended the spurt with a runner and started to make plays. But each time Downey did something, Warren had an answer during a stretch when the Rebels opened the lead to 28-15 with 7:54 left in the half.
After Downey's runner, Warren took the inbound pass and weaved his way through the South Carolina defense for a layup. Downey found Johndre Jefferson with a nice pass for a dunk and Warren answered with his own to Reginald Buckner.
Terrico White, who finished with 11, and Warren hit consecutive 3s a few minutes later to push Ole Miss' lead to 36-20, the biggest of the game.
South Carolina coach Darrin Horn said the first-half defensive performance was a repeat of a familiar refrain for the Gamecocks.
"We got behind too far by not guarding at all in the first half," Horn said, adding: "Until they understand the urgency and the need to do that the entire 40 minutes, it's going to be very hard."
The Gamecocks opened the second half with the game plan of driving the lane and it worked immediately. They started with a 13-5 run that included five free throws. Ramon Galloway, who finished with 11 points, also had two 3-pointers in the spurt.
South Carolina ended up with a significant free throw advantage over Ole Miss (the Gamecocks were 16 of 22, while the Rebels were 7 of 11) and the team whittled the lead down to 50-44 and 53-47 with 5 1/2 minutes left by taking advantage of turnovers. But the Gamecocks would get no closer as the Rebels stepped up the defensive pressure and muscled up under the basket.
With the exception of a 2-minute lapse during the Gamecocks' late run, Warren was nearly flawless, scoring 17 and hitting 3 of 4 3-pointers.
Ole Miss also had a 36-20 advantage in the paint and fed off South Carolina native Murphy Holloway's boundless energy.
He finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. On one possession early in the second half, he had three offensive rebounds off his own contested layup attempts. The forward didn't get the points, but his teammates got the message. Energy leads to opportunity.
"I got dunks, layups," Holloway said. "I cleaned up a lot of things."