Looking Ahead

Ole Miss had possession with 10 seconds left, down two.

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Illinois State had come to play, using unconscious shooting from 3-point range to lead Ole Miss, 95-93, in the first and only overtime of this first-round meeting in the National Invitation Tournament.

Jarvis Summers brought the ball up the floor. He passed to Nick Williams, who looked to freshman guard LaDarius White. White had made 10 of his 12 shots, including 4 of 6 3s. He had a look.

Williams took the ball and passed. The pass sailed out of bounds, over the heads of those fans sitting courtside. The game was all but over. Illinois State went on to end Ole Miss' season, 96-93.

"I would've knocked it down," White, who had 25 points in the loss, said of the shot that never was. "My confidence was up. I would've knocked it down. That's how I felt."

It was a fitting end for a team that had come so far in two weeks. Ole Miss got away from itself Wednesday, settling for a high-scoring game rather than the grind-it-out style that had worked so well over its last six games.

Ole Miss (20-14) had its highest scoring output of the season against Illinois State. Prior to tonight, Ole Miss had scored no more than 82 points all year. Not coincidentally, such a game ended in defeat.

Illinois State shot 63 percent from the floor for the game. Guards Tyler Brown and Nic Moore combined for 50 points, and made 14 of 15 3s between them. As a team, Illinois State made 17 of 23 3s, a Tad Smith Coliseum record.

"We are a very good shooting team, but this was crazy," Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich said. "Our guys were so cut in and confident."

Terrance Henry
Bruce Newman

Terrance Henry walked into the press room in the bowels of Tad Smith Coliseum postgame with a blank look on his face. His Ole Miss career is officially over. No trip to New York on the horizon. No next game to play.

"I hate that it had to end like this. I wanted to be in New York to end my career," Henry, who had 21 points, said. "I had a great career. I'm ready to move on."

The team, he said, wasn't ready to play. Despite a late-season surge, when Ole Miss won five of its last six games, the Rebels fell short of the NCAA tournament. Henry acknowledged the team wasn't focused.

The end result, a loss, proved as much. Ole Miss was the favorite in this game, the team expected to make a run after finishing the season so strong. Disappointment has a way of changing a team in a matter of days.

"Focus wasn't there," Henry said. "Just focus, that's all it was. People were kind of down (after not making the NCAA tournament). But I was trying to let everyone know we still had ball to play. Unfortunately, we lost."

Now the Rebels head into the 2012-13 season with a bitter taste in their collective mouths.

Yes, Illinois State is a good basketball team. The Redbirds beat Wichita State, a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, earlier this year. They fell by four to No. 25 Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament finals.

They're motivated. Motivated to prove that they belonged in the field of 68. Determined to show they're better than their record, that they're capable of beating any team.

"Coming out in warm-ups, we weren't ready to play in the first half," Henry said. "It's frustrating. I've been dealing with that a lot in my career here. What can you say? I don't know. To tell you the truth, I don't."

"We weren't focused at first," White said. "We turned it on at the last minute. Too late."

Ole Miss will have a different look next season. Head coach Andy Kennedy has already added four players to his roster in guards Anthony Cortesia, Martavious Newby and Marshall Henderson and forward Jason Carter.

LaDarius White
Bruce Newman

And Kennedy isn't done. What he'll do with Jelan Kendrick is unclear. However, a decision is likely to be rendered sooner rather than later. If I had to guess, and this is an educated guess, Kendrick won't return.

Another scholarship open. Another player to add. Ole Miss is in on College of Idaho point guard Fabyon Harris. Other recruits will emerge over the coming weeks. The roster will again change.

"It's odd to say this after scoring 93, but we've got to get some offensive pop," Kennedy said. "We're down three guards from where we started, and two of three I thought they would be 30-plus-minute-a-game guys. We've got the majority of the kids from our front line returning. We'll obviously miss Terrance and his presence.

"We've got to add some pieces. We got some early, we'll add some late."

Ole Miss found its identity late. Games like Wednesday won't be the norm next season. But Kennedy will continue to add offense and build on what he has -- a gritty team (when it's focused, apparently) with the ability to beat anyone.

Next season, it's NCAA tournament or bust.

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