Ole Miss may or may not have another memorable SEC tournament run left in it. But the Rebels live to fight another day.
It’s no secret the Rebels, the No. 6 seed here in Nashville, is very much on the outside looking in for an NCAA Tournament berth. An 86-74 win over No. 14 seed Missouri Thursday night neither helped nor hurt their postseason resume. Actually, if anything, their RPI will drop a spot or two.
Still, there’s hope yet because there’s at least one more opportunity. Then another. Then another. Winning is all that matters now, and Ole Miss is 1-0 in its most important week to date. Not to mention the Rebels posted another 20-win season, the ninth in 11 seasons under head coach Andy Kennedy. Ole Miss had seven 20-win campaigns in the 96 seasons prior to Kennedy’s arrival in Oxford.
“It was a thing of beauty, wasn’t it? Do you want a copy of that? Anybody want a copy?” Kennedy said. “In all seriousness, I thought we had some really good moments. It kind of encapsulates our season. We have moments where we look like we’re a really good basketball team. Proud of my guys. Good to have (Deandre Burnett) back. We live to fight another day.”
Up next is Arkansas Friday night at 8:30 p.m. CT. The Razorbacks (23-8, 12-6 SEC) are No. 28 in the RPI and would stand as Ole Miss’ best win so far, eclipsing South Carolina (No. 32 RPI), who the Rebels beat to close out the regular season.
For Ole Miss to realistically make its NCAA Tournament case, the Rebels will likely need to win the SEC tournament championship, which would be their third in school history and second since 2013. But they haven’t reeled off three straight wins since December, and they haven’t won four in a row since opening the season 4-0. Suffice to say, they have their work cut out for them.
But there’s belief in the locker room.
“We all believe that we can accomplish anything,” sophomore guard Terence Davis said. “Going into the tournament, man, we can steal it, just like in 2013. We all think we can get to Sunday and take it.”
Ole Miss showed signs Thursday of a team in no hurry to concede its NCAA Tournament chances and settle for the NIT. The Rebels entered play as a projected NIT No. 3 seed.
Burnett was questionable to play, but the junior guard checked in early in the first half. And by the way he shot the basketball, making each of his first six shots, including four consecutive 3s, he looked nothing like a player dealing with lingering discomfort in both of his knees. He led the team in both points (23) and minutes (35).
Davis overcame a rough two-week-plus stretch of foul-laden and inefficient basketball and totaled 19 points on 7 of 12 from the floor. Perhaps most encouraging, he committed just two fouls. Sebastian Saiz had his 20th double-double at halftime and finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Breein Tyree followed up a quiet first half with nine of his 11 points in the second period, including eight points in the half’s opening minutes. Justas Furmanavicius recorded six rebounds, the third time in his last four games he's totaled at least six rebounds.
“Anytime you make your first shot, it feels good and all the pain goes out the way,” Burnett said. “I was trying to play hard for my team. That was my mindset.”
Ole Miss isn’t going down without a fight. Should Ole Miss get past Arkansas (the Razorbacks beat the Rebels by 18 in the only meeting between the teams this season), the Rebels would draw either Florida or Vanderbilt, meaning another Top 50 RPI win would be theirs for the taking.
But Ole Miss isn’t looking ahead. Its game-by-game approach, while, yes, cliche, is working. Well, at least it worked for one night. It’s a one-game season. And as long is there’s another game, the Rebels have a chance.
“We’re just trying to win two games in two days right now and the rest will take care of itself,” Kennedy said. “This is a big moment for these guys. It’s a big building, it’s a big stage. It has a different feel. We’re going to have to come out and play with great energy. We’ll tape them up and roll them out there and hopefully play better than we did in our first outing in Fayetteville.”
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On the availability of Burnett for Arkansas: “I think he’ll be OK. He obviously couldn’t play in our last outing (against South Carolina). Our medical staff did a good job of doing everything they could. He’s a warrior. ‘Dre plays hard. He moves at a snail’s pace anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. We’ll throw another strand of tape on (his knees). I thought that was a good look for him.” On if Burnett struggled with fatigue: “A little bit. I think, second half, it showed. He was really good early. He made his first two or three shots. He had good rhythm. Second half he was not nearly as efficient. But I wanted ‘Dre in the game to finish it. We want the ball in his hand. Early on, he set the tone for us by being able to make shots.” On what the team needs to improve on for the rematch with Arkansas: “Really, everything. They controlled (the last game). Daryl Macon was really shooting the ball well. They extended us, and they killed us on the glass. We’re not the greatest defensive team I’ve coached, but efficiency-wise we’ve gotten better. The biggest stat for us tonight is we only had seven turnovers.” On Arkansas forward Moses Kingsley, who Kennedy recruited to Ole Miss: “Rim-protector. Very athletic. Monster on the glass. He dominated us. I know he had like 15 (points) and 15 (rebounds) in our first outing. He dominated us in the block. Sebas is going to have to do a good job early. Defensively he’s going to make sure he protects the basket. They’ve got a good team. They’re going to go to the NCAA Tournament, and we’re going to have to be on top of our game tomorrow night.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- (AP) Deandre Burnett scored 16 of his 23 points in the first half, and Mississippi beat 14th-seeded Missouri 86-74 Thursday night at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
The Rebels (20-12), the six seed, won their fourth in five games trying to improve their postseason resume. They simply wore down Missouri a night after the Tigers upset Auburn to give one last victory to coach Kim Anderson, whose firing was announced last weekend.
Ole Miss traipsed to the free throw line early and often as three Tigers fouled out, finishing with more free throws (31 of 47) than Missouri made field goals (26 of 61). Sebastian Saiz, who had his SEC-best 20th double-double by halftime, finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Terence Davis added 19.
The Rebels will play No. 3 seed Arkansas on Friday night in the quarterfinals.
Missouri (8-24) finishes the season losing seven of eight.
Jordan Barnett, Terrence Phillips and Kevin Puryear each had 15 points for Missouri, and Cullen Vanleer had 10.
The Tigers used the 3-pointer to stay close early after hitting a season-high 16 3s against Auburn. The Tigers hit six of their first 12 but couldn't keep pace.
Early, Burnett knocked down all four of his 3s as the Rebels shot 7 of 13 outside the arc in the first half. That, and free throws kept the Rebels ahead before they got going in transition. The Rebels also took advantage of their depth with a 23-9 edge in bench scoring to lead by as much as 14 before taking a 46-36 lead into halftime.
Frankie Hughes, whose 3 forced overtime in the Tigers' tournament opener, pulled Missouri within 50-41 with a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half. That was as close as the Tigers would get.
Breein Tyree, who finished with 11, pushed the Rebels' lead to 58-43 with 16:11 to go with a layup and back-to-back 3s. Ole Miss led by as much as 17 down the stretch.
Missouri: The exhaustion of a season with so many losses capped by Anderson's firing effective at season's end appeared to catch up with the Tigers. Even Anderson picked up a technical foul in the second half.
Ole Miss: If the Rebels want to even push themselves into bubble talk for the NCAA Tournament, they likely need at least another win or two. Otherwise, notching another 20-win season might be the highlight of this season. Coach Andy Kennedy now has nine 20-win seasons in the past 11 seasons.
Missouri: Hiring Anderson's replacement.
Ole Miss: Playing No. 3 seed Arkansas in the quarterfinals.