Rolling On

Ole Miss' NCAA Tournament hopes may be on life support at best, but they haven't flat lined just yet.

The Rebels pulled a shocker Saturday afternoon, outlasting SEC West Division leader Alabama, 68-63, to snap a two-game losing skid.

Ole Miss avenged a 10-point loss in Tuscaloosa two weeks ago, and at least held serve in its race with Arkansas and Mississippi State -- teams Ole Miss trails by one game -- for a first-round bye in the league tournament next month.

"I thought our effort was tremendous, even from the opening jump," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We didn't start the second half ideally. Guys continue to believe, continue to fight. We challenged them."

The Rebels (18-11, 6-8 SEC) led by five at halftime, but were outscored 21-5 in the opening minutes of the second half. They trailed by as many as 11 points, and even went some seven minutes without a field goal in the second half.

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
But they made winning plays down the stretch and used inspired defense to keep them in an intense, hard-nosed game that featured 43 called fouls and one costly, late technical foul against Alabama head coach Anthony Grant.

Grant was whistled for the technical by referee Doug Shows with his team trailing, 59-58, with just under two minutes to play.

Ole Miss' Zach Graham had pulled down a tough rebound on a missed shot by Alabama's Trevor Releford, and was put on the free throw line after a foul called against Senario Hillman by Shows.

An animated Grant, visibly frustrated and shouting, came out on the floor to protest. Grant thought Releford was fouled on his attempted layup. Ole Miss made three of its four granted free throws after the call.

"I disagreed with the call," Grant, whose team is now 19-9 overall and 11-3 in SEC play, said. "I let them know my opinion, they didn't agree with my opinion. That's their right. I thought my guy got fouled. Maybe I'll go back and look at it and see it from their perspective. At the moment, it looked like there was contact going to the rim."

Nick Williams tied the game at 56 all on a jumper with 4:42 to go to snap the lengthy second-half scoring drought. Ole Miss took the lead for good shortly after with two made free throws by Chris Warren, who had 25 points. It was Warren's 13th 20-point game this season.

Graham registered his second career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Warren and Graham were a combined 20 for 23 from the free throw line, and the only Rebels in double-digit points for the game.

"From the start, we came out with a great level of intensity," Graham said. "We came out in the second half with that same level, if not even harder. That helped us out. We stepped up and made big plays."

Sophomore forward Reginald Buckner slams it home
Courtesy: Bruce Newman
"We came out, we were ready to play," Warren said. "Came out aggressive. At the beginning of the game, it was a tight game, as opposed to us coming out flat. Our approach mentally, we still got fight in us. We're going to keep fighting."

Ole Miss shot 40 percent (19-48) from the floor for the game, compared to 44 percent (25-57) for Alabama. The Rebels held the edge in rebounding, 35-32. JaMychal Green led three Alabama players in double figures with 17 points. He also had seven rebounds.

Kennedy has long been calling for consistent 40-minute effort from his team. Kennedy, Graham and Dundrecous Nelson, who drew his second straight start in the win, even answered questions about it earlier in the week. Warren brought up lack of effort in a postgame interview following the team's loss to South Carolina.

There was a noticeable difference Saturday.

"I know that we played with a sense of urgency," Kennedy said. "When you get to this point in the season, you have a million things in your mind. As a player, you hope they have one, and that's just play hard. Play as hard as you can play. Don't worry about what's happened in the past or what's going to happen in the future. Just play as hard as you can play."

Ole Miss finished the month of February with five wins in eight games. The Rebels return to action at Auburn Wednesday at 7 p.m.

"It's a great win," Graham said. "Coach was telling us we've beaten the best two teams (Kentucky and Alabama) in our league, so why can't we go out the next game and win? They're going to be tough, going on the road to Auburn, but we just got to take it one game at a time."

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