OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI/AP) - Junior Aaron Jones posted 12 points, 7 boards, 5 blocked shots and 5 steals as Ole Miss edged Auburn 65-62 in the SEC opener on Thursday night.
Derrick Millinghaus scored 16 points, Jarvis Summers added 14 and Ole Miss won its second-straight SEC opener.
“The result is ultimately what shows progress,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “We’re in a results-oriented business, so for that I’m excited.”
Ole Miss has won five straight in the series against the Tigers. The Rebels won despite being outrebounded 40-30 and giving up 19 offensive rebounds.
Auburn (8-4) was led by Chris Denson’s 28 points while KT Harrell added 11. Harrell missed a 3-pointer that could have tied the game on the final possession.
The loss snapped the Tigers’ four-game winning streak.
“I’m really proud of this group for battling, battling and battling to find a way to win a hard-fought game,” Kennedy said.
It was quickly apparent that the Rebels would miss Marshall Henderson’s scoring ability — especially from the perimeter. Ole Miss did enough to take a 31-28 halftime lead, but lost it early in the second half after a stretch of just two points in seven minutes.
Auburn’s backcourt of Harrell and Denson ranked one-two in the SEC in scoring coming into Thursday’s game, but foul trouble kept Harrell off the floor for a big chunk of the second half, so the offensive load fell to Denson.
The 6-foot-2 guard responded brilliantly, pouring in points from all over the court, though he missed his final five shots in a 10-of-25 performance. The problem was he didn’t have much help.
That allowed the Rebels to stay close. Ole Miss pushed ahead on back-to-back buckets by Jones — one on a 15-foot jumper and the other on a dunk — to give the Rebels a 62-57 lead with 1:42 remaining.
Jones also had a huge block with 25 seconds left, swatting away Malcolm Canada’s layup attempt that would have made it a one-possession game.
“It’s a big sigh of relief,” Jones said. “We’ve been losing a lot of (close) games.”
Ole Miss’ offensive performance without Henderson was a mixed bag. The Rebels were 7 of 14 (50 percent) from 3-point range, but just 12 of 21 (57.1 percent) on free throws.
It’s a disappointing loss for the Tigers, who had played their best basketball of the season coming into the Ole Miss game. Their four-game winning streak included victories over Boston College and Clemson.
Denson and Harrell combined for 39 of the team’s 62 points. Barbee said he’d like to see more balance, but he was encouraged by the team’s toughness in a hostile environment.
“We played hard and we played tough,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “I’m proud of the guys because they fought their tails off tonight and we gave ourselves a chance. We’ve just got to be more efficient on the offensive end of the floor. We had 18 turnovers and too many of them are unforced.”