A Step Closer

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Ole Miss took another step towards an NCAA tournament berth Friday night.

Follow SpiritBen on Twitter

The Rebels, the No. 7 seed here in New Orleans, outlasted No. 2 seed Tennessee in overtime in the second round of the SEC tournament, 77-72, to move to 20-12 on the year. Tennessee fell to 18-14.

The win was significant. Ole Miss arrived in New Orleans Wednesday needing as many wins as it could get to play its way into the NCAA tournament. Ole Miss hasn't made the field of 68 in a decade.

"They don't give me a vote," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "Some people have us right on the cusp; some people don't even have us in the conversation. I don't understand that, personally. It's always been about quality, not quantity. I don't think it has anything to do with 20, 21 (wins). I think it has to do with that quality number.

"I'm not trying to self-promote, but I think with Tennessee with what they've done with Jarnell Stokes, that's as quality as it gets. They're a good basketball team. We beat an Alabama team that's in the top-30 in the RPI. They righted the ship. So I think we've got some clout. Is it enough? I don't know, because the bubble obviously moves with what other people are doing."

Ole Miss entered the game with an RPI rank of 53, according to RealTimeRPI. It's the fifth-best RPI rank among SEC schools. Its strength of schedule is 43, but Ole Miss is a mere 1-7 against top-50 teams.

The Rebels advance to face Vanderbilt, who beat Georgia Friday, tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Murphy Holloway
Associated Press

"I'm hoping, man. We came here to win the SEC tournament," junior forward Reginald Buckner, who had 14 points and eight rebounds in the win, said. "We're going to keep rolling. Next game."

Senior forward Terrance Henry scored 19 points in the win. He made 10 of his 12 free-throw attempts, including five in overtime to seal the victory. He also had six rebounds.

When asked postgame, Henry wasn't sure if the Rebels had done enough to earn a bid. The team's focus, he said, is on Saturday's game. Should Ole Miss get a third win here and move on to Sunday, a bid would certainly appear in the Rebels' future.

"I really can't say," Henry said of the Rebels' NCAA tournament chances. "Twenty wins is great. Twenty-one would be better. We're going to just keep riding this out."

Friday, Ole Miss beat a Tennessee team that entered the game on a four-game winning streak. The Volunteers had won eight of their last nine games. However, their RPI was in the 70s.

Still, the Rebels placed themselves squarely in the conversation for an NCAA tournament berth with the win.

"I hope so. Tomorrow's the biggest game of our season," guard Nick Williams said. "Just got to go out there and play hard."

Murphy Holloway, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, said he'll know when Ole Miss is a tournament team Sunday, the day of the SEC tournament championship game.

"I'll tell you we're a tournament team on Sunday when we leave here," he said. "If we win, we know we're a tournament team. We're just going to try to keep winning. We're just going to win, man. We want anybody. We want to win."

Kennedy didn't want to play politician in his postgame press conference in the bowels of New Orleans Arena. But, of course, he couldn't help himself.

"I really don't want to play politician. I really don't," he said. "I think if you look at this team, this team's now won 10 games against Southeastern Conference competition, the fourth-rated RPI team in the league. This team just beat a Tennessee team that with Jarnell Stokes, swept the (Florida) Gators, who will be a top four or five seed. Beat UConn, who is currently in the tournament.

"I think, collectively, we've got some good things going for us. I said I wasn't going to play politician, and now here I go."

OM Spirit Top Stories