History Lesson

Every basketball team is different. Not unlike people, in that there is no one team like the other.

Teams go down in the annals of basketball lore based mostly on the remarkable or, for those less fortunate, the unremarkable moments that defined them.

For example, no one will remember 2013 Ole Miss as the team that lost five of seven games in a three-week span from late-January to early-February; a streak that, at the time, was considered the death knell for the Rebels' NCAA tournament hopes.

Rather, all anyone will recall is their winning an SEC tournament championship and reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. A banner hangs from the rafters of Tad Smith Coliseum as a tribute to their accomplishments.

What will history say of this Ole Miss team, of this most frustrating of seasons? If Saturday afternoon, a 75-71 loss to No. 2 Florida and the fourth loss in a row, was any indication, the year of missed opportunities.

"It's been two weeks since we've won a game, which feels like an eternity," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "You can hang your head today. I want it to hurt. I don't want anybody on my team ever to be a good loser. But if you hang your head, then four is going to turn into five, six, seven. We've got to learn what we did wrong, make the necessary adjustments and come back Wednesday and try to stop the bleeding."

Ole Miss fell to 16-11 overall and 7-7 in the Southeastern Conference following the loss. Hopes for the NCAA tournament are fading into the distance, if not already too many miles down the proverbial road in this poor analogy to be considered anything less than mindlessly optimistic. Barring, of course, another memorable, four-day run in Atlanta next month.

Marshall Henderson
USA TODAY images

Kennedy said not once this season has he broached the topic of the NCAA tournament with his team. Because, at least in his estimation, they've never been relevant to the conversation.

"I haven't one time said we're an NCAA tournament team," he said. "I've never tried to force us into that."

The Rebels had seemingly made their way back onto the bubble with their win over Missouri two weeks ago today. Thing is, they haven't won since.

"We haven't earned our way into that (NCAA tournament) conversation," Kennedy said. "We're not relevant as it relates to that conversation. This time last year, we weren't relevant either. We've still got five basketball games left, and if we can win our share of those five, maybe we earn our way into that conversation.

"I felt like we did what we needed to do earlier in conference play. We had a couple of heartbreaking losses on the road, and then we had opportunities here at home and we did not get it done. Bottom line. I'm not talking NCAA tournament with this team. I'm talking let's improve, let's win a game."

Saturday was all too familiar for Ole Miss, a game that followed the script of so many this season.

The score was tied at halftime. Dynamic guard Marshall Henderson had 22 points, including seven made shots in 14 attempts. The next-closest scorer was Florida's Micahel Frazier, who had nine. Henderson was on his way to a career-making performance, one that could have helped spark his reeling band of Rebels in their waning pursuit of the postseason.

Florida clamped down in the second half, and Henderson was held scoreless. He attempted six shots, including five 3s, all of which failed to find the bottom of the net.

The Rebels were (shockingly) outrebounded, too, if only by two. An improvement, really. Kentucky was plus-16 against Ole Miss in a comfortable win four days ago. Lack of front court production has plagued the Rebels all season, and Florida was no different. Aaron Jones, Dwight Coleby, Sebastian Saiz and Demarco Cox combined for all of seven points and 11 rebounds.

Billy Donovan
USA TODAY images

"I think Andy has really done an incredible job," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "The problem in playing them a year ago was when you had (Reggie) Buckner and (Murphy) Holloway at the basket, you had two veteran guys that were seniors, that were physical, athletic, strong. Now Andy's got some young guys in the front court. They're going to need some time to grow and develop.

"When you lose two front court players like that, I think that that's probably hard to overcome a little bit."

Kennedy didn't question the toughness and fight of his team after losing to Florida. The effort was there, and he acknowledged it. A four-point loss to a team sure to be ranked No. 1 in the country come the first of next week is nothing to be ashamed of.

But the reality Ole Miss faces is it's running out of time. Its history hasn't been decided, defined. However, if the Rebels are going to act, they better move quickly.

Otherwise, they'll ultimately go down as what they've been for 27 games: Close but, time and again, not good enough.

"We have to persevere. We're in the ultimate game of perseverance. Last year showed us that if you continue to persevere and you continue to work, success will find you, and it found us in a big way," Kennedy said.

"That's my message to this group. We're all disappointed. I want you to be disappointed because it shows me your heart and soul's in the right place. But we've got to push forward. We've got to take this same approach to our next game and hope for better efficiency. And, as a result, the wins will find us. So that's our goal, man, just to persevere, try to continue to bang away and see what this team can do."

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