Costly Conclusion

HATTIESBURG - It was literally anybody's game all day, and you could sense that from the start. Then came the final two minutes of Southern Mississippi's 86-82 win against Ole Miss.

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With the game tied 76-76 on two Terrance Henry free throws and 1:53 to go, Southern Miss' Neil Watson drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:22 left to put his team up 79-76.

After a missed shot by Jarvis Summers on Ole Miss' next possession and a USM rebound, a thunder dunk by Torye Pelham and an elimination foul on Dundrecous Nelson all but sealed it for the Golden Eagles. Pelham's successful free throw made it 82-76 with 56 seconds left. The Rebels were in trouble.

Ladarius White missed a shot for the Rebels at the other end, USM got the rebound and Angelo Johnson was fouled. He made one of two free throws with 32 seconds left for a 83-76 USM lead that basically sealed it.

Terrance Henry, with a career-high 26 points, fouled out moments later to join Nelson on the bench, and that was that.

"The reality is we have played in this territory way too often," said Andy Kennedy, the Rebels' head coach. "We had very close games against Drake, against Miami, against DePaul, against Penn State. We were fortunate enough to make ‘the' play. Tonight we didn't. Tonight they made the play."

After Ole Miss led 34-33 at halftime, the teams put on an offensive show in the second half with USM outscoring Ole Miss 53-48. Those stops at the end the Rebels didn't get proved the difference.

In their previous close encounters this season, even on the road, the Rebels have come away successful. But in an environment where the majority of the 5,195 fans were clad in yellow, this was a tougher task for Ole Miss, now 9-2 on the season. Kennedy said this is the kind of game, even in a loss, that can help a team as the season progresses.

"Both teams really competed. It was a physical game," he said. "There is a reason we did this series. Obviously no one wants to lose. But I know now as a team we found out some things about ourselves as I'm sure (their) team did as well. That was the whole point of this series.

"They just made a huge play down the stretch," he concluded.

Southern Mississippi head coach Larry Eustachy was quite conclusive in what this win meant for his program.

"I'd have to put this in my top three in terms of best non-conference wins in my career," he said after his team moved to 8-2. "Beating Iowa was huge (when he was head coach at Iowa State). But I'd have to think hard of another game that meant more. You know what we've been through with this program."

Early in the game, Reginald Buckner became the all-time leading shot blocker in Ole Miss history. He needed two to take over sole possession. He got those early in the game. He finished with four and now has a total of 183 in his career.

More importantly in this game, Buckner had a career-high 16 rebounds.

Dundrecous Nelson
Hattiesburg American

"He was very active for us. That's the Reginald Buckner we need to see," Kennedy said. "I played him 34 minutes. He had a double-double (10 points). He made his free throws. He was a presence for us."

In the first half, the Rebels led 18-13 and had chances to increase the lead at that point. But USM went on a 8-0 run to lead 21-18 and keep things close until halftime.

The Golden Eagles actually led 33-28 with three minutes to go before the break. But Ole Miss went on a 6-0 run, capped by a buzzer-beating turnaround jumper from 15 feet by Murphy Holloway to lead by a point.

Henry in the paint gave Ole Miss a big offensive boost early in the second half. The Rebel senior was disappointed in the squad's defensive play.

"Our whole goal coming into this season was to be a better defensive team than last year," Henry said. "They shot over 50 percent (in the second half), and we couldn't get any stops. That hasn't been the case for us."

In the second half, Ole Miss was up 42-37 when Southern Mississippi went on a 10-2 run to lead 47-44.

Later, after a Nelson two-pointer and a technical on Eustachy, Nelson made one of two free throws at that point for a 55-52 Ole Miss advantage. But for the next four minutes, it was all Southern Miss again as the Eagles went on a 13-3 run to lead 65-58.

But Ole Miss closed the gap again and set things up for the final two minutes of drama.

Ole Miss shot 45 percent for the game from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range. At the free throw line the Rebels were 21 of 27.

USM shot 49 percent from the floor, 53 percent from 3, and was 18 of 22 at the line.

The Rebels won the battle of the boards 39 to 33.

Kennedy said defensively the Rebels just didn't get it done in the second half.

"It was our worst defensive performance," he said. "Even against Marquette (a 96-66 loss) I don't think we gave up 53 points in a half. We were having a lot of difficulty guarding them. They were having a lot of difficulty guarding us. At the end of the day, Watson made the play that put them over the hump."

That was the 3-pointer from the corner which made it 79-76 home team.

Eustachy had glowing comments for the Rebels and their effort, and also for playing the series.

"We definitely beat an NCAA Tournament team today," he said. "You have to give Andy Kennedy credit for coming down here and playing this game. I think we've got our program to the point where this is not a bad loss (for Ole Miss). At the end of the season I think the committee will look back at this game and say ‘Yeah, that makes sense.'"

Johnson led five USM players in double figures with 23 points.

In addition to Henry's 26, Nelson had 19 for Ole Miss, as four players ended up with double figures.

Jelan Kendrick made his first appearance as a Rebel. He entered with 11:50 to go in the first half, shot twice - missing both - in eight minutes of action, made an assist and committed a foul.

"I was trying to get him in the game," Kennedy said. "He's deserving of the opportunity to get in. Obviously we're 11 games in, and it's difficult to play everybody. I thought he gave us some quality minutes. In the second half, we wanted to tighten our rotation because of the magnitude of the game."

Kennedy saw some good things offensively despite the loss.

"Overall offensively we were probably more efficient than we've been," Kennedy said. "Our inability to get stops, to make a key stop, it's difficult to win on the road in any environment. I thought their crowd was really excited. It was a great college basketball game.

"Our inability to get the key stop down the stretch cost us. Not only the Watson shot, but I can remember vividly two or three times where momentum was on our side, and we could have turned the game. But we were unable to do so."

The Rebels host Middle Tennessee State in Southaven Wednesday at 8 p.m.

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