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Ole Miss 70, DePaul 68: Second-half comeback falls short

Updated: January 3, 2012 10:42AM

DePaul rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit to take the lead against Mississippi, but missed free throws ruined the comeback.

The Blue Demons took a one-point lead with 41 seconds left on sophomore Brandon Young’s finger-roll basket, but four missed free throws in the last 30 seconds gave Ole Miss the break it needed.

Murphy Holloway’s basket with three seconds left gave the Rebels a 70-68 victory Thursday in the Big East/SEC Challenge at Allstate Arena.

Young’s miss on a one-and-one, sophomore Cleveland Melvin’s miss on the first of two free throws with 24 seconds left and senior Jeremiah Kelly’s two misses with 12 seconds left with the score tied at 68 made for a deflating finish.

‘‘I’m disappointed because we had it,’’ said Young, who led the Demons (4-2) with 18 points. ‘‘We all missed free throws. We have to make them in crunch time.

‘‘But we waited until the second half to play. If we had played well in the first half, it would’ve been different.’’

The Rebels had the Demons on their heels in the first 20 minutes, hitting 61 percent of their shots (19-for-31) as DePaul was outmuscled and outgunned. DePaul, which made only 7 of 29 shots in the first half, trailed 42-28 at halftime and had many in the crowd of 7,129 going home early.

But the Demons turned it around in the last nine minutes after Melvin’s basket closed the deficit to 52-42.

With centers Krys Faber and Derrell Robertson in foul trouble, coach Oliver Purnell went to a small lineup, and it helped turn the tide. Three-point baskets by sophomore Moses Morgan, freshman Jamee Crockett, Melvin and Kelly turned the pressure up.

But Ole Miss (6-1) answered in the closing moments when Holloway (16 points), who dominated in the first half, stole the ball and made the winning basket.

‘‘It’s a tough loss, given we made a valiant comeback and were at the free-throw line to salt it away,’’ Purnell said. ‘‘But we didn’t convert.

‘‘It was a game of two halves, and they were the more physical team in the first half, no question. We weren’t dealing with it very well and lost our poise and our aggressiveness. Then we took the fight to them, but we didn’t get the job done.’’

The Demons were hurt by poor first-half shooting, but both teams were plagued by turnovers. Mississippi had 20, and DePaul had 16.

DePaul was without sophomore forward Donnavan Kirk, who is experiencing back problems, as he did last season at Miami. There was no update Thursday on his condition.

‘‘It’s still young in the season, and we’re a young team, and it’s important to keep that in mind,’’ Purnell said. ‘‘But it’s important for our players to know they have to grow up.

‘‘Hopefully, we can impose our will a little more next time.’’

Melvin had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Guard Nick Williams paced Mississippi with 17 points.

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