"It's as hard as I've had in my career," head coach Jeff Lebo said about the last second loss that would have given Auburn a Western Division Championship. "There is not a whole lot you can say to (the players). I told them I was proud of them for their effort, but we've got to pick up the pieces.
"They hurt because they've come a long way," Lebo said. "A lot of people doubted them and we had a game on the road and had things against us. We battled, battled and battled and I'm proud of that. It's just heart-breaking for them. I feel horrible for them because they had it right there.
"We're hurting pretty good," he added. "They just snatched a victory from us. I don't think I've hurt for a team before like I hurt from this one because we had this game and we did so many good things. We battled our tail off and to have it in the last 50 seconds. There were a lot of factors in the game and I think the fouls were big. We didn't get to the line in the second half and they did. "
With Auburn up 77-74 just under a minute remaining, Quan Prowell tracked down a Bam Doyne missed shot. However, he raced down court and lost control of the ball on the fast break with 39 seconds to play. Ole Miss' Michael Abernathy rushed the ball up court and passed to Clarence Sanders, who tied the game with a three. DeWayne Reed had the ball tipped away while dribbling right after the inbounds and Jeremy Parnell hit a lay-up to reclaim the lead at 79-77.
If Auburn slowed it down and had gotten into a half-court set on the other end, it could have taken the game clock down 15-20 seconds.
Following a timeout after Parnell's basket, Josh Dollard threw down a dunk with 26 seconds left and appeared to be fouled, but the officials swallowed their whistles and the game was tied at 79. With Ole Miss holding for the last shot, Frank Tolbert stepped in front of a dribbling Bam Doyne with 3.8 seconds remaining and committed a blocking foul, sending the senior to the line. Doyne calmly hit both free throws to take an 81-79 lead.
DeWayne Reed rushed down court and was fouled while trying to shoot a three-pointer from near half-court with 0.7 seconds left. However, the officials ruled that the foul was on the floor instead of the shot. "I thought we were shooting a three-point shot," Lebo said. "What else are you doing with .7 on the clock?" Reed is a 74.5 percent foul shooter.
It was just the sixth foul of the second half by the Rebels. The inbounds pass went off the rim, and after clock operating problems Doyne went back to the line and hit two more foul shots.
"We didn't get our breaks in the second half," Lebo noted, "but I'm proud of our team to play the way we did in this environment in this big of a game. It just hurts to not get over the hump when we have it in our hands."
The mistake by Prowell in transition was the turning point of the game, but the Tigers wouldn't have ever been in the game if it wasn't for him. He had a career-high 26 points on 10-14 shooting from the field and 5-6 on threes. He had 20 second half points.
"Quan was terrific all night," Lebo said. "We probably don't have a chance if he doesn't play the way he played. I'm proud of our kids. We came in this type of environment and easily could have won this basketball game. I just hurt for the kids. They're hurting badly and the staff is hurting. Just congratulations to Ole Miss on a heck of a year."
Auburn had used Reed at the point and Quantez Robertson at the two-guard in the three-game winning streak prior to Saturday, but was more efficient in the second half against the Rebels trapping press with Robertson running the show. However, up 71-69 with 3:12 remaining, he picked up his fifth foul of the game on a Doyne baseline drive.
"For some reason he got into foul trouble," Lebo said. "There were a couple of tough drives and we didn't get some breaks on some calls. That's just the way the ball bounces sometimes. You're going to get that on the road. I thought we had chances to get to the foul line. We attacked the basket in the second half. We did shoot a lot of threes, but we really did shoot lay-ups in around the bucket with post-ups. I thought we could have gotten to the line a little more in the second half."
Auburn made 15-19 foul shots while Ole Miss got to the line 27 times, making 17. The Tigers committed 24 fouls to just 15 for the Rebels.
Auburn outrebounded Ole Miss 42-33, but the Rebels made up for that discrepancy in the turnover column. With all seniors in the backcourt--Abernathy, Sanders and Doyne--Andy Kennedy's club turned it over 10 times. The Tigers turned it over 21.
Alabama and Mississippi State play in Starkville on Sunday at 1 p.m. with the winner also claiming a share of the title. If Mississippi State wins then Auburn would be the fourth seed in the West and play Georgia or Kentucky in the first round of the SEC Tournament. If Alabama wins then Auburn would be the five seed against Georgia, Kentucky or Tennessee.
Ole Miss improved to 19-11 overall while the Tigers finish the regular season at 17-14.