Resilient Rebels

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It's possible now to say that something good might have come of Ole Miss' thought-to-be bubble busting loss to Mississippi State.

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Talk surrounding this Ole Miss basketball team has been centered around the conference games they didn't win, and rightly so. Absent one of their sub-200 RPI losses to the Bulldogs and South Carolina, the Rebels would've entered this SEC Tournament in much better bubble shape.

But the reason they're still alive after a second half surge in Saturday's 64-52 win over Vanderbilt in the semifinals was credited largely to their seeding. Ole Miss entered the day playing its second game in as many days, while the Commodores were on their third.

"It's the reason really I wanted to do so much zone," Rebels head coach Andy Kennedy said. "I wanted to keep them out of the paint and I wanted them to have to make jump shots. And jump shots usually go when your legs go, and that was the case for us."

"They palyed an extra two hours from us," senior forward Reginald Buckner, who had 15 points and nine rebounds, said. "Their legs kind of gave out on them. We took advantage of it."

The same Vanderbilt team that made a Memorial Gym record 17 three-pointers against the Rebels in January shot 30 percent from three point range on Saturday and 10 of 32 overall in the second half, looking spent and dead-legged.

"When you look guy after guy after guy, the same thing seemed to be going on, and we talked about that as a coaching staff at halftime. We had two, three guys that were just a quart low on energy," Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings said.

The grind of playing Arkansas and Kentucky was apparent for the younger Commodores, who finish the year at 16-17 now having clearly done the Rebels the favor of eliminating Kentucky and petering out Saturday.

Andy Kennedy
USA TODAY images

While the same endurance concerns will be present for the Rebels on Sunday against top-seeded Florida, one less game played this weekend is the difference in Ole Miss getting to the SEC Tournament final for the first time in 11 seasons in addition to possibly cementing a NCAA Tournament bid.

"That's what you do all season, that's why you want to win all those other games, to have this double bye," Marshall Henderson said after the game. "We feel good right now. I feel good."

Credit the wake of that disastrous road loss to MSU: Ole Miss earned the No. 3 seed by closing out the year with wins over Alabama and LSU to finish 12-6 in league play. That was good enough for a three-way tie with Kentucky and Alabama (head to head records put the Rebels between those two).

Buckner talked about a sense of urgency among the team's seniors following the MSU loss, and without the responding wins after that embarrassment, the Rebels wouldn't be playing for a SEC title on Sunday.

"We're trying to make history, us three seniors," he said. "It's like a dream come true. Us seniors got together and promised each other we'd have each others' back. We couldn't go out as losers. We played our heart out."

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