New Life

It was easy to write Ole Miss off a week ago. The Rebels had lost three straight games, including an embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt in which two Ole Miss players got into an altercation postgame.

Follow SpiritBen on Twitter

The Rebels were 15-11 and 5-7 in SEC games, their season spiraling into the abyss. Talk of the NCAA tournament was laughable. Heck, the NIT seemed a stretch. The question wasn't how many games Ole Miss would win to finish out the regular season, but how many it was going to lose.

The atmosphere inside Tad Smith Coliseum that night was toxic, and the frustration carried over a game later at Tennessee, when the Rebels were easily handled in another of what has seemed to be endless must-win games.

Another loss. More disappointment. Terrance Henry wasn't supposed to go out this way. Disenchanted fans were bordering on outright anger, the likelihood of those fans storming the castle with pitchforks and torches growing with each loss.

Towards the end of the game at Tennessee, Henry and Reginald Buckner could be seen on the Ole Miss bench during a timeout with looks of disgust plastered across their faces. The reality had set in. They had accepted what appeared inevitable.

The season was over.

Then the surprising happened. A team left for dead responded, winning three straight, capped by an impressive 60-51 win here over Alabama Saturday afternoon. There's meaningful basketball to play yet, in New Orleans, La., site of the SEC tournament.

"I like the sense of urgency I'm seeing out of the guys who are difference-makers for us," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "Now we're going into a situation where we've got to win games. We're in neutral-site situations against teams we've played before. We'll see what happens."

Andy Kennedy

Alabama entered the game No. 27 in the RPI. Ole Miss was No. 59 in the RPI, and had beaten just two top-100 RPI teams. Ole Miss did what it absolutely had to.

Now the Rebels head to New Orleans next week with something to play for. The NCAA tournament, though still a considerable long shot, is somehow back in play.

The Rebels are the No. 7 seed in the SEC tournament and will play Auburn in the first round Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

"I feel great about it," Henry said. "We're on a three-game winning streak. Like Nick (Williams) said, it's not always about who's the best team, it's about who's the hottest team. I feel like a three-game winning streak, we're pretty hot. We'll be a team that people probably won't want to play in the tournament."

This team could have easily thrown up its hands and cruised to the finish line after Vanderbilt. Few would have blamed them. I'd venture to say most would have expected as much.

But here Ole Miss is, with an opportunity in New Orleans in front of them.

What changed? Henry and fellow veterans Murphy Holloway and Buckner and Williams came together for a meeting a week or so ago. The season was headed nowhere. They took ownership, opting to fight rather than lay down.

"We just sat down and talked about what we can control," Williams said Thursday. "We can control practicing hard and giving everything we got. When we had that meeting, it didn't immediately translate. But we're starting to see it. We're just coming together and trying to make a run."

How this ends up is anyone's guess. However, give credit where it's due. Kennedy has rallied this team. Henry is playing like a player knowing he is in his final games. Buckner has owned the post the last three games. He had 11 rebounds Saturday. Ole Miss is 9-2 when Buckner has double-digit rebounds.

Ole Miss likely has to win two in New Orleans to even enter the NCAA tournament discussion. A third would likely earn the Rebels a bid. Shocking, I know. The loss to Vanderbilt is in the rearview mirror now. And as cliché as it may sound, Kennedy is right. Ole Miss controls its own destiny.

To borrow from legendary Oakland Raiders head coach Al Davis.

Just win, baby.

"We have great team confidence," freshman guard Ladarius White said Saturday. "We're playing as a team. Going to New Orleans, we're going in with a winning mentality."

OM Spirit Top Stories