One Away

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Jarvis Summers got the shot he wanted against Kentucky. He didn’t settle.

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That was his story Wednesday, at least.

Ole Miss (20-11, 11-7 SEC) finds itself firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble entering the SEC tournament this week. The Rebels are the No. 6 seed in Nashville, Tenn., and will play either South Carolina or Missouri Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

Though current bracket projections are in their favor, the Rebels need a win or two to feel confident about their postseason resume. Anything less likely means a stress-filled Selection Sunday.

“We’ve got a veteran group that have been through these conversations many times,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “My hope is they’ll just focus on the thing they can control and that’s Thursday night playing well. Last time we were in this building lots of good memories here. Hopefully we can conjure some of those back.”

But it didn’t have to be this way.

Ole Miss very nearly knocked off No. 1 Kentucky in Rupp Arena in January. With the teams tied and in the final seconds of regulation, Summers held for the final shot. However, his 3-point attempt with four second left bounced high off the rim.

Kentucky went on to win, 89-86, in overtime.

Summers admitted he thinks about the shot “every day. I wanted to make that shot. I wanted to win.” The sequence even played out how he envisioned – he got Kentucky guard Devin Booker off balance and had a pull-up look.

“It felt real good coming off my hand,” he said, “it just didn’t go in.”

What could have been.

Kentucky went on to finish the regular season with a perfect 31-0 record and sit as the prohibitive favorite to win its second national championship in four years. Ole Miss, meanwhile, has work left to do, the Rebels having lost three of their final four games.

Ole Miss ranks No. 51 in the latest RPI rankings released by the NCAA. The Rebels are 3-3 against the RPI top-35 and 8-8 against the RPI top-100, including wins over No. 22 Arkansas, No. 29 Oregon, No. 34 Cincinnati and No. 55 Texas.

“Kentucky’s awfully good and we played well the majority of the game,” Kennedy said. “We didn’t finish well and they took advantage of it. They’ve been doing it all year.”

“It boosted our confidence,” senior guard Ladarius White said. “If we can stay with Kentucky, we can stay with anybody. That’s how we feel.”

Kentucky wasn’t the only missed opportunity. Ole Miss lost by one at home to Arkansas, by four at Dayton and were up 16 in the second half against Western Kentucky only to collapse down the stretch and lose by seven.

Life on the bubble.

“I think of a lot of possession here, possession there,” Kennedy said. “But I also think of a lot of games. For instance, we were up 16 in the second half against Western Kentucky and lose the game. And then we’re down 17 in the second half against Coastal Carolina and came back and won. You are what your numbers say you are. We’re 20-11 and 11-7. That’s what we are.”

“I say Arkansas,” junior guard Martavious Newby said of what he considers the game that got away. “We let Arkansas slip out of our hands when we had the game won. But it doesn’t really matter. We’re focused on this tournament and taking it one game at a time.”

Which, if the Rebels were to make a 2013-like run, could very well mean a rematch with the Wildcats in the SEC tournament championship game.

“Hopefully we can get another chance at them,” Summers said. “We’ve got to take it one game at a time starting tomorrow.”

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