OXFORD, Miss. — A shuffled lineup and a more inspired effort on defense still wasn’t enough to break No. 19 Vanderbilt out if its road funk Wednesday against No. 24 Mississippi.
Freshman forward Darshawn McClellan received his first career start in place of senior Ross Neltner, but McClellan didn’t make much of an impact as he finished with just two points in 23 minutes in the Commodores’ 74-58 loss to the Rebels in front of a crowd of 8,886 at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Neltner still played 21 minutes and finished with eight points, but the Rebels held the Commodores to a season-low 34.9 shooting from the field and their lowest point total of the season.
Vanderbilt (17-3 overall, 2-4 in Southeastern Conference play) has lost four straight league road games.
“We competed a lot harder tonight, but it wasn’t good enough,” VU guard Alex Gordon said. “Now we have a chance to go home and fight to get a win in an environment we’re used to. But we still have to get ready to play on the road and get a win.”
Despite the poor shooting night, Vanderbilt still held the Rebels to 10 points less than their season average. The ’Dores also held star center Dwayne Curtis to just three points, 12 less than his average.
But the Rebels (16-3, 3-3) stretched their lead to 13 points early in the second half and never trailed again.
“We just got off to a bad start at the start of the second half, and that really ended up being the difference in the game,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We spent the rest of the time trying to make up for that.
“That was really all we talked about at halftime was the need to get off to a fast start in the second half. As it turned out, we didn’t continue to do the things we did in the first half and get off to a fast start. I guess my message wasn’t good enough.”
The difference Stallings talked about involved the Rebels’ ability to get out and run better than they had in the first half and the Commodores’ inability to guard both Eniel Polynice, who finished with 18 points, and Chris Warren, who scored a game-high 20 points.
“Polynice was the difference for Ole Miss in the first half,” Stallings said. “He had six layups and was better off the dribble than our guys. Warren was the difference in the second half.
“We couldn’t keep their perimeter players in front of us. We’ve had a hard time guarding perimeter players all year long.”
Ole Miss opened the second half with a decisive 15-5 run. Vanderbilt got as close as four points at the 11:23 mark on a 3-pointer by Shan Foster, who scored a team-high 14 points. But the Rebels moved back ahead by double digits six minutes later when forward Kenny Williams stole the ball away from Gordon and drove home a thunderous dunk.
“Kenny brought a great deal of energy tonight and was very efficient,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said of Williams, who also grabbed 10 rebounds. “I thought his steal and dunk late was (Vanderbilt’s) back-breaker.”
GOLD NUGGETS: With 14 points Wednesday, Foster moved past former VU star Ronnie McMahan for the No. 3 slot on the school’s career scoring list. Foster has 1,723 points, one behind Phil Cox at No. 2. …After scoring at least 20 points in nine of his first 16 games this season, VU freshman center A.J. Ogilvy has not scored more than 12 in the past three games. Fighting the flu, he scored 10 points Wednesday. …The Commodores had 26 points in the first half Wednesday and have failed to score 30 points by halftime in three of their four SEC losses. …Ole Miss snapped a six-game losing streak to Vanderbilt.