After win one, Rebs look to game two

Justin Johnson scored 15 Sunday

The Rebels enjoyed the victory over South Carolina State but are already focused on Air Force.

MILWAUKEE - It was only one win. But it was a win.

At this point in the Rod Barnes era of Ole Miss basketball, wins are the most important thing of all.

And players. Having players talented enough to win games is important, too.

The Rebels have had them lately but not enough of them. The past two years they only had enough to win half their games overall and not that many in conference play.

I saw on the Spirit message board after Sunday's season-opening win a post that went something like this:

"Yeah it was a win, but let's admit it. South Carolina State is a terrible team."

I disagree and I saw it from underneath one of the goals, only a few feet from the action, at least when it was on my end of the court.

As a matter of fact, Rebel freshman Brandon Patterson's hustle play to keep alive a ball headed out of bounds (you've gotta love that from a guy in his first college game) almost involved me in the action.

South Carolina State is not a terrible team. That's one thing that scared me about today's game. I knew they had NBA-potential player Thurman Zimmerman. He's a 6-foot-6, 240-pound big man who ruled the court for much of the game, especially on the offensive end for SCSU. You can find his type on any team in the Southeastern Conference.

Guard Shawn Wiggins is a solid player as were others on the Bulldog squad.

South Carolina State wasn't a terrible team if for no other reason that they returned five starters from a team that won 18 games and a league title and are picked to repeat.

Remember the Rebels of 1996-97 which won the SEC West with no seniors? Turned around and won it again in 1997-98. That's what can happen when you return five starters.

I knew it would have helped the Rebels to have played an exhibition game. So did the players and coaches. They feel sure that won't happen again and wouldn't have this year if not for the cancellation of another tourney they were supposed to play in.

Yeah, I was concerned about South Carolina State. Before the contest I was hoping we could have started the season against a terrible team.

But we didn't and we learned something about this Rebel team today. One thing we learned is that the newcomers are as good as advertised.

Patterson? Sunday: From 3-point land he was 3-of-6. Nine points on the day. Two steals. In 19 minutes of action. The Rebels most likely wouldn't have won today without him.

Londrick Nolen? Athleticisim combined with basketball skills that make him a better juco transfer than many we've seen at Ole Miss the past few years. Sunday: nine points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals, 25 minutes. In a nutshell, the kid can play.

Jeremy Parnell? His numbers Sunday weren't impressive: three points, one rebound, one steal, one assist, 25 minutes. But he will have many good days as a Rebel.

I always enjoy these type tournaments and atmospheres. A lot of times, even in Oxford, I'll have the opportunity to sit next to someone like I did today. His name was Jim Clib of Philadelphia, Pa.

He owns his own scouting service of college players for NBA teams. NBA folks call Jim to find out who's good enough and who's not.

We talked at length. He wrote Parnell's name down as one to watch the next couple years. He did that in Jeremy's first college game. He also knew Dwayne Curtis, the 6-9, 290, sophomore center sitting back in Oxford waiting on the Rebels to return so he can practice with them again and get the team ready for this year and himself for next year. Jim said he needed to come down to Oxford in the next couple of years to check out the talent in this program.

"A 6-9, 340-pound center?" he asked me concerning recent signee Carl Swanigan.

Jim was intrigued by the players, especially the new ones and the ones coming in, for Ole Miss basketball.

Brian Smith got in for a few minutes, just enough to get his feet wet. Rod wants to say Ed Glass is a new guy since he played so little last year. The "new" Glass was 3-for-5 for six points in 16 minutes with an assist and a rebound and looked better than he did all last year doing it.

There were some disappointments. I thought senior center Tommie Eddie would do better right off the bat. But no points and three rebounds in 12 minutes was a bit of a shocker to me.

Rod ran guys in and out at a pretty rapid pace. But unlike past years, when often there appeared to be no rhyme or reason to that type of madness, today it looked like most combinations were working. The Rebels got better as the game wore on.

And as SCSU wore down. It's obvious how good a shape these Rebs are in and that those grueling running sessions at the end of practices pay off.

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No two players stood out and stood up more Sunday than senior Justin Johnson and sophomore Todd Abernethy.

Johnson: From the field 6-of-13, including 3-of-8 from 3-point range, 15 points, two steals, two rebounds.

"We played together as a team tonight," said Johnson, who Rod had mentioned during the preseason as one who realized it is his final season as a college player and is working hard to take his game to another level.

"I've put in a lot of hard work," Justin continued. "The guys I came in with, Kendrick Fox, Cavadas Nunnery, Chris Rhodes, we've all seen the good and the bad. I wanted to do all I could to make this year my best yet."

Johnson said he's made sure to step up to help the first-year Rebels.

"We've got a lot of new guys who don't really know the intensity of play at this level," he said. "We try to help them understand, and they know more today just because they've been in a game.

"We're ready to win games," Johnson continued. "The last two years we lost our openers. It was important to get a win today to get this season started right."

Johnson's parents are here for the tournament as are Todd Abernethy's parents and Brian Smith's mother, Donna, the wife of Tubby.

Justin's mom, Renee, is one of the more vocal Rebel supporters in the stands. There were about 50 Ole Miss fans here cheering for the red and blue Sunday.

"It doesn't matter if it's 10,000 or 10 people, I'm gonna hear that voice," Justin laughed and said of his mom. "I'm blessed to have two parents who support me like they do and always have."

Abernethy: From the field 7-of-11, four assists, five rebounds, 3-of-3 from the line, 18 points.

"We needed this. It's huge getting a win," said the sophomore point guard who had his best day as a Rebel. "Now we're playing the night session and that means we are really in the tournament's prime time. This win is big for Ole Miss. To get where we want to be, we have to win games like this and keep winning."

Abernethy, with 20 or so family and friends here for the tourney, admitted Sunday was his best day on the basketball court since before he injured his shoulder in high school.

"I have been looking to get my confidence back," Todd said.

On Sunday, he found it and his team found a win.

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Monday's schedule and tournament records:

Noon - Jacksonville State (0-1) vs. South Carolina State (0-1)

2:15 p.m. - Penn State (0-1) vs. Western Carolina (0-1)

5:30 p.m. - Ole Miss (1-0) vs. Air Force (1-0)

7:45 p.m. - Marquette (1-0) vs. Illinois State (1-0)

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