In or Out?

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Alas, Ole Miss finally ran out of gas.


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The Rebels, the No. 7 seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament this week, entered Saturday's semifinal meeting with No. 3 seed Vanderbilt as winners of five straight games. They had clawed their way back into the NCAA tournament discussion.

Saturday was yet another opportunity for a quality win, and on the eve of Selection Sunday, it appears likely -- if not an inevitability -- Ole Miss falls one game short of its ultimate goal. The Rebels fell, 65-53, in a game it desperately needed.

"Just hoping and praying that we make the tournament," freshman point guard Jarvis Summers, who had a team-high 15 points, said. "I don't really know right now. I felt like we did enough, but at the same I time, I don't feel like we did enough. We'll have to see."

Ole Miss (20-13) held close to Vanderbilt Saturday, a team it lost to by an eye-popping 102-76 score not even a month ago. The Rebels were within two with over 10 minutes to play. But the magic ran out.

Ole Miss had no legs left to stand on. Fatigue set in, and Vanderbilt (23-10) did what Vanderbilt does.

It ran away.

Vanderbilt used an 8-2 run to extend its lead to an unreachable 46-38. From there, the Commodores kept Ole Miss at arm's length. John Jenkins, who scored 23 points, was the primary reason why.


Andy Kennedy
Associated Press

"Three games in three days, it's like my voice. Three games in three days, it leaves you at times," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "Basketball, it comes down to a play here and a play there."

Ole Miss, not long ago with a record of 15-12, had come back from the abyss to get to this point, within reach of an NCAA tournament appearance for the first time in a decade.

As the seconds ticked away late in the game, the Ole Miss bench was solemn. Reginald Buckner had a towel over his head. Nick Williams and Terrance Henry looked at the scoreboard, dejected.

"Hopefully (the selection committee) shows us some love tomorrow," Henry said. "We're just happy to still be playing basketball."

"It's up to the committee now," forward Murphy Holloway said. "We let this one slip. It's not up to us tomorrow."

Following the game, Jeff Borzello, college basketball writer and bracketologist for CBSSports.com, had Ole Miss on the wrong side of the cut line for the field of 68. The Rebels have but one top-50 RPI win in eight tries. Warren Nolan, an expert in RPI, had Ole Miss with an RPI rank of 60.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Stewart Mandel sent out a tweet midway through the game Saturday, quoting Jeff Hathaway, who is leading the NCAA Selection Committee. Hathaway had said on CBS that the committee had already selected the 37 at-large teams, and will sub in others if some becoming automatic qualifiers.

The tweet was misleading. The committee assumes nothing. Kentucky is an at-large team right now. The Wildcats would be an automatic qualifier tomorrow by beating Vanderbilt in the SEC championship game. Same for North Carolina or Duke.

So Ole Miss has a chance to make it in. Jerry Palm, CBS bracketologist, had Ole Miss as a No. 12 seed playing in a play-in game in Dayton prior to the Vanderbilt loss. All isn't lost, though the likelihood of Ole Miss earning a bid certainly went down.

Is Ole Miss' resume good enough? Kennedy isn't sure.

"I don't know," he said. "I know that there'll be basketball in our future. Where it is I don't know. Anytime that you no longer have a say in that obviously isn't the place you want to be."


Nick Williams
Associated Press

Whatever happens Sunday, if Ole Miss falls short or not, there's no doubting the success of this team.

This team wasn't supposed to be here. Not with Chris Warren and Zach Graham gone. Not with Dundrecous Nelson dismissed. Not with Jelan Kendrick suspended. Not with Holloway's extended absence due to injury earlier in the year. Not with Steadman Short unable to play for the majority of the season due to multiple injuries.

On and on and on. Williams was inconsolable in the locker room postgame. He had no points in the loss; two days after he scored a career-high 22 in a first-round win over Auburn.

The disappointment was certainly understandable. This team battled. This team fought. No Kennedy team in years past played as hard as this one did over the last two weeks. They'll likely fall short. And, well, that's OK. Because Ole Miss learned something about itself over these two weeks.

"You can only pray, man," Williams said. "I just wish we would have won the game. Just how it is."

The Rebels now know how to win. They know how to compete. The 2012-13 season will be one of great expectations. Anything short of the NCAA tournament isn't good enough, honestly. This team proved it's capable, and every player returns not named Henry or Short, and more than likely Kendrick.

"Proud of my guys' effort. Really battled," Kennedy said. "Gave ourselves a chance."

A chance. A chance Ole Miss didn't have two weeks ago. A chance to look to the future with optimism, with the understanding that Ole Miss basketball is moving forward, not backwards. A chance to head into next season with an outlook of what could be.

A chance.


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