JACKSON, Miss. -- There were a couple of things Winthrop coach Randy Peele feared most about Ole Miss -- size and rebounding -- and they were the difference Thursday, as the Rebels stayed unbeaten with a 76-71 win.
The Rebels, with three players inside who could block out the Mississippi sun, pounded the Eagles on the boards 34-23, including 16 offensive rebounds that led to 21 second-chance points. And 18 Ole Miss points off 13 Winthrop turnovers added to the misery.
"Our initial defense was pretty good," Peele said, "but they had 21 second-chance points and 18 off turnovers. So, they got 39 points after we played some pretty good defense."
The Eagles simply couldn't guard the post and didn't get a body on someone often enough on missed shots. And in the final 10 minutes, when they needed to stop dribble penetration, that didn't happen either.
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"For the majority of the 40 minutes, did we play better than them? Yeah," Peele said. "At crunch time? No."
Dwayne Curtis, a beefy 6-foot-8 and 280 pounds, Kenny Williams (6-8, 240) and Jeremy Parnell (also 6-8, 240), combined for 38 points and 19 rebounds, with Curtis getting 22 and 10. He hit 10-of-12 shots, easily getting the ball on the post and using shoulders as wide as a Cadillac bumper to muscle his way to the bucket past the much less bulky Eagles.
Fittingly, the play that put the game out of reach was Curtis' offensive rebound and score with 47.6 seconds left off Eniel Polynice's missed 3-pointer, after the Eagles had defended well enough to get the shot clock under five seconds. That gave the Rebels (8-0) a 76-69 lead and enough room to hang on.
With 7:50 to play, the score was tied at 61, and the Eagles, who led by as many as seven in the second half, had seemed to weather Taj McCullough getting his third foul and sitting out for almost seven minutes.
They were still down 65-63 when McCullough came up with a steal of a post pass, one of the few times they stopped it, but the Eagles turned it over at the other end and Chris Warren took it coast-to-coast for a layup.
The Eagles missed three of four free throws before a Chris Gaynor 3-pointer trimmed the margin to 69-67 with 3:30 to go.
But at the other end, Curtis posted up for two more and after Michael Jenkins missed a 3-pointer, Trevor Gaskins buried a three from the deep corner.
The Rebels made 16-of-28 shots in the second half -- 57 percent. And when it mattered most, the Eagles couldn't stop the dribble, especially the cat-quick Warren.
"From about the 10-minute mark," Peele said, "they spread us out and we had trouble stopping the penetration."
The Eagles got 17 points from Antwon Harris, 13 points and seven rebounds from McCullough and 12 each from Jenkins and Gaynor. But while the Eagles shot 51 percent for the game, usually good enough to win a game like this on the road, Jenkins struggled again from the perimeter, missing 10 of his 14 shots and eight of nine 3-pointers.
But because of the boards, the Rebels got up 17 more shots and made five more.
Blocking out, something the Eagles usually do well, was missing this time.
"Rebounding is a mentality," said Harris, who had three rebounds in 31 minutes. "You've just got to box out and go get the ball.
"Without question, rebounding beat us. Our first-shot defense was excellent, but we just didn't box out. When the shot goes up, you have to find someone to box out and we didn't do that."
Peele had trouble putting a good face on this one. While it was a nice, close loss to an SEC team, that didn't make him feel better. It was another game there for the taking.
"What bothered me most was a stretch in the second half where the crowd got into it and we lost our composure a little bit," he said. "We fired up some shots we shouldn't have."
Peele said the game "was another lesson learned."
"Normally in games like this when you're playing a team from a high major conference," he said, "eight times out of 10, they will win because of their ability to rebound.
"If you're even on the boards, you've got a chance. Win the boards and you can win the game. It doesn't take a rocket scientist."
The Eagles (5-4) go on the road Tuesday at Mount St. Mary's. Harris said the Ole Miss game sends a message to the Eagles.
"We've got to go out and do it," he said. "Got to find a way."