Back Again

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The last time Ole Miss played inside Bridgestone Arena, the Rebels won an SEC tournament championship.

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They’re looking at a repeat performance this weekend.

Ole Miss, the No. 6 seed, opens tournament play tonight against No. 11 seed South Carolina. The Gamecocks defeated Missouri in the first round Wednesday night. Ole Miss has won the last four in the all-time series.

“Lots of good memories here,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Hopefully we can conjure some of those back.”

The Rebels played their way into the NCAA tournament with three tournament wins in 2013, including a championship win over Florida, who would later make a run to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight. Ole Miss rallied from double-digit second-half deficits in all three games.

And the Rebels made their run through the heroics of a couple of its unheralded players. Point guard Jarvis Summers couldn’t participate due to suffering a concussion on his birthday. Backups Ladarius White and Derrick Millinghaus stepped in, with Millinghaus even going so far as to sink a buzzer-beater to down Missouri in the opening round.

“It was miserable. I was disappointed. I was sick. I was so down,” Summers said. “But at the same time, my guys just played hard and went out there and won a championship.”

“From Millinghaus’ shot against Missouri to battling back and beating Vanderbilt in front of a home crowd and then finding a way to come back in the second half against a Florida team that went to the Elite Eight, it was a special run for us,” Kennedy said.

Ole Miss isn’t so desperate two years later.

Still, the Rebels (20-11, 11-7 SEC) are no sure thing to earn an NCAA tournament bid. They’re firmly on the bubble, though all current bracket projections have them in the field. But they have to win to stay there.

South Carolina (15-16) would be a start, and the Rebels get their rematch with the Gamecocks away from Tad Smith Coliseum – which, oddly, is a good thing. They were 9-7 at home this season and 11-4 away.

“It’s so different than what we’ve typically done,” Kennedy said. “I’ve certainly tried to evaluate – and I will again – some things we could’ve done differently. Ultimately we just haven’t played very good at home. We haven’t shot the ball well. I think our effort has been pretty consistent all year. We’re like a lot of teams, man, you’ve got to make shots. We’re a perimeter-oriented team and we just haven’t shot the ball well at home. That’s odd.”

Ole Miss has an overall record of 30-50 in 53 SEC tournament appearances. The Rebels have reached five SEC championship contests and have a 2-3 record in those games. Ole Miss has won six of its last eight SEC tournament games dating back to 2011-12.

The Rebels are 5-5 in tournament games in Nashville.

“It’ll help us out,” White said of the familiarity with Bridgestone Arena. “It gives us motivation to get there again. Just take one game at a time. That’s it.”

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