Oh, So Close

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Murphy Holloway couldn't believe it. Maybe this wasn't Ole Miss' night, after all.

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"This must not be our night, for real," Holloway said.

Ole Miss held a 61-58 lead with nine seconds left. Head coach Andy Kennedy called timeout. The sixth-year head coach wanted to get his defense in order, maybe switch out personnel to defend.

Tennessee was going to attempt a 3-point shot. And most everyone in New Orleans Arena knew who was going to take it.

Skylar McBee, who made 5 of 11 3s for his 15 points in the game.

Trae Golden brought the ball up the floor. McBee was guarded on the wing, but Golden got him the ball. McBee faded back with a hand in his face. Good. A bank-shot 3, and he didn't even call it.

Tie game, 61-61. Overtime.

"I was thinking, 'Are you kidding me?' I guess the banks are open late in Knoxville," Kennedy said. "We were all a little stunned with the way it happened. I had a great view of it, and when I saw McBee got it, that's the one guy you obviously don't want to have it. But it's a hard shot."

"I was like, ‘Oh my God, man.' Another five minutes of this physical game? I'm just excited we won this game, though," junior forward Reginald Buckner said.

Ole Miss did win, in overtime, running away with a 77-72 final to move to 20-12 overall on the year. Tennessee fell to 18-14. Tennessee scored the first bucket in overtime, but Ole Miss reeled off nine straight points to push ahead, 70-63, in the extra frame, the largest differential in the game.

Skylar McBee
Associated Press

Ole Miss has now won five games in a row, and moves on to face Vanderbilt in the semifinals of the SEC tournament at 2:30 p.m. CT.

"I couldn't even explain how we felt," senior guard Terrance Henry said of the shot. "We knew we had five more minutes. We felt we were the better team, and we proved it. We wanted it more."

Holloway finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for his 11th double-double of the season. He's had a double-double in both SEC tournament games. Ole Miss is 19-9 this season when Holloway is available the entire game.

But this game could have easily been a loss and McBee a hero. Holloway said it's a credit to the resiliency of a team that rallied over the final weeks of the season and is in prime position to earn an NCAA berth.

"Kept going, man. He hit a 3, but that don't mean they're going to win," Holloway said. "They've got to strap it up and play five more minutes, just like we did."

The Kids Are All Right:

Aaron Jones said his palms were sweating prior to Friday's game. He was nervous. This was a must-win game for Ole Miss if there ever was one. Jones was going to play, having seen extended action over the last few weeks.

Sure enough, he entered midway through the first half. Five Ole Miss players had already collected two fouls each, including forwards Buckner and Holloway. Jones, as well as sophomore Demarco Cox, were tasked with keeping the game within a reasonable striking distance.

Ole Miss and Tennessee were tied, 28-28, at halftime. Mission accomplished.

"The starters before the game, they said they have big expectations for us," Jones, who finished with two points, three rebounds and three blocks in 18 minutes, said. "They were wanting us to play hard, pick up the pieces, get rebounds, block shots, score when we can and just play hard."

Buckner acknowledged postgame that he is a big brother to Jones. Jones looks up to him. When Buckner had to sit down in the first half and then again in the second, it was Jones who replaced him.

Buckner became another coach on the bench. That's his role now, a team leader.

"I'm like A.J.'s protégé, man. A.J. looks up to me," Buckner said. "I just basically take care of A.J., and I basically told him when his time came, step up. He did that tonight."

Aaron Jones
Associated Press

Jones wasn't the only youngster to play a valuable role in the win. Ladarius White had eight points on 4 of 8 shooting in 16 minutes. Cox grabbed two rebounds, blocked a shot and recorded a steal in 13 minutes.

"It was very critical. They came in with the same energy and kept the team rolling," Buckner said. "They really picked up or slack. They were the difference for us tonight, they really were."

"It was great," junior guard Nick Williams said. "Snoop (White) came in and gave us some big minutes and made some great shots. Demarco came in there and gave us some big boards and A.J., also. They came in and did what they needed to do."

Oh, Henry!

Kennedy joked about it postgame. Ole Miss, a team that has struggled all season to make free throws, made them when it counted Friday. And the right player was taking the shots.

Henry had 19 points in the win, including 10 points from the free throw line. He made 10 of 12 free throws, and six of those free throws came in overtime. Four of those free throws were in the final 11 seconds of the game.

"I just wanted to step up and make the free throws," Henry said. "I'm the senior leader on the team, and coach wants the ball in my hands in the last two minutes of the game in a close game. I just did what I'm supposed to."

Ole Miss entered the game shooting 59 percent from the free throw line as a team. Friday, the Rebels made 21 of 31, good for 68 percent.

" I've been the head coach at Ole Miss for six years," Kennedy said. "I don't think I've ever been more proud of a group to fight through the adversities of a season, to fight through the adversities of a game."

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