Andy Kennedy could only stand and watch, the player he recruited and coveted, Moses Kingsley, making the impact Kennedy always believed he would.
Only Kingsley, a former four-star prospect and once the top recruiting target for Kennedy and the Rebels in 2013, was making winning play after winning play in a meaningful basketball game in March for Arkansas. Not Ole Miss.
Moses Kingsley — the personification of where Ole Miss is and where it wants to be.
“Preseason player of the year,” sophomore guard Terence Davis said. “Made a great play.”
Breein Tyree missed a 3-point attempt with 50.7 seconds left in the quarterfinal matchup between the Rebels and Razorbacks Friday night. All-SEC first-team forward Sebastian Saiz pulled down the rebound. But his put-back, turnaround jumper was blocked by Kingsley. The play preserved a one-point lead for Arkansas, which ultimately proved to be deciding in a 73-72 final.
It was almost fitting Kingsley was the player that sealed Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament fate. The Rebels will most assuredly be left out on Selection Sunday, their overall resume — including an RPI rank near 70 — severely lacking despite a 20-13 record. Ole Miss finished with just one RPI Top 50 win. Had the Rebels simply finished off one of Baylor or Creighton (they led for 30-plus minutes in both games), their play in Nashville would have been for nothing more than seeding.
Sure, the Rebels are likely headed to the NIT. They entered play as a projected No. 3 seed. But the NIT wasn’t the end game; not for a team that entered the 2016-17 season with high expectations and even greater optimism.
“I think it’s a huge benefit,” Kennedy said. “It’s been a while since we played in the NIT. I think it has merit. I think sometimes people look at it like it’s the old days. It’s really not. It’s difficult to get into the NIT. There’s 351 Division-I basketball teams. There’s 68 that go to the NCAA, 32 that go to the NIT. You finish in the top half of college basketball, you’re good. It’s not easy. I’ve grown up in SEC county; I’ve never seen a football team turn down a bowl. There’s so many bowls you’re looking for teams to fill them. We had one pretty close to our situation (Mississippi State) that gets in at 5-7. It’s not like that in basketball. This team has put itself in position. My hope is they’ll get the opportunity to play.”
(An aside, as to be fair to the math: Ole Miss, like other high-major teams, is dealing with an expanded NCAA Tournament field which now includes rising mid-majors like Gonzaga and Butler — teams that weren’t around snatching up bids 16 years ago. The tournament has expanded to an additional four teams, bringing the total to 68. NCAA Division-I basketball consists of 351 schools in 32 conferences. Nineteen percent of teams get to the Big Dance in a given year.
College football, by comparison, hands out bowl bids to a whopping 62 percent (80 of 128) of its teams each year. If football followed the basketball model of percentages, that would equate to just 24 teams earning a bowl berth.)
But whenever their season ends, be it next week or later this month, Kennedy and Co. will turn towards an ever-important 12th season for the Ole Miss head coach. He returns an experienced roster led by emerging all-league-caliber players Breein Tyree and Terence Davis. Saiz will be replaced by 7-foot Drake transfer Dominik Olejniczak, who will provide the rim protection and quickness in defensive rotations Ole Miss has sorely lacked in the low block.
Ole Miss has one scholarship open for the spring, though the Rebels are expected to add at least two players, and possibly up to four, after the dust settles. Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey is expected to transfer, and the future is cloudy for rising senior Marcanvis Hymon, who could also be a transfer candidate.
Ole Miss is looking to add offense at the four. Hymon and Justas Furmanavicius combined to average only 10.0 points per game this season. Ideally, the Rebels would land a player whose offense isn’t reliant on put-back opportunities at the rim, but rather can step out and make shots outside of 10 feet. Jones Community College forward Bruce Stevens is an option, and Ole Miss has kicked the tires on former Memphis and Virginia forward Austin Nichols, though the SEC’s new rules regarding previous disciplinary issues for transfers makes it all but impossible for the Rebels to add him.
Ole Miss could add a guard, too, and the Rebels will make it a priority to get more athletic on the wing. Former Texas guard Tevin Mack is a name being floated, among a host of others.
Options abound, and Kennedy is sure to be busy. But for now, Ole Miss is headed home, while the one that got away advances, Moses Kingsley at least providing a reminder of what is (the NIT) and what could have been (the NCAA Tournament).
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
Opening statement: “Hard-fought game. Disappointed, obviously, that we weren’t able to advance. Arkansas made the plays down the stretch. But really proud of our effort. Our guys played extremely hard, battled. We just couldn’t make enough plays.” On the possibility of the NIT: “I think I feel pretty confident just based on the way that the numbers are a little different from an RPI standpoint (for us) this year. I think we’ll have this opportunity. I think this team deserves that. We put ourselves in position to get to 20 wins and finish 5th in the league. I hate it for Sebas. You can tell by his tone he’s certainly disappointed he didn’t play better. He played hard, but he had a difficult time finishing over their size up front. I think we’ve seen a lot from this group. Terence Davis goes from a guy who didn’t play very much as a freshmen to inarguably the most improved player in the SEC and one oft he most improved in college basketball. Breein Tyree goes from a guy who we didn’t even know if he was going to play this year, to a guy who made big plays for us. He’s an off-the-chart athlete. You still haven’t seen everything. I’m pleased with the production we got from a number of our returners. I hope we get an opportunity to continue to play.” On if the team battled fatigue: “No, “I thought we played extremely hard. Honestly harder than last night. I look at the numbers, we hold them under 37 percent from the field, we out-rebound them by 11. We haven’t shot free throws well here. We lead the nation in free throws made. Tonight we go 8 for 14. Not only are we not getting there like we normally do, but we’re not making them. We only shot 57 percent. Those are the things we have to avoid. With this team, we don’t have a very big margin for error.” More on the loss: “Our guys made plays. Terence Davis, he goes for 26 and 9. He made big plays for us. Breein came out great with energy. In the second half, and it was more of him trying to make a play, he kind of reverted back to high school mode and made some poor decisions. We weren’t as efficient in the second half as we needed to be.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- (AP) Manuale Watkins drove for a layup with 1:28 left to put Arkansas ahead, and the Razorbacks held off Mississippi 73-72 on Friday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
Third-seeded Arkansas (24-8) has won seven of eight and will play Vanderbilt, a 72-62 overtime winner over No. 17 Florida, in Saturday's semifinals.
Watkins' layup made it 71-70, and Daryl Macon hit two free throws with 23.8 seconds left to pad Arkansas' lead. The Razorbacks needed every point as the Rebels took and missed a flurry of shots in the final 10 seconds before Justas Furmanavicius' layup just before the buzzer.
Officials reviewed the play before ruling the game over.
No. 6 seed Mississippi (20-13) snapped a two-game winning streak.
Macon finished with 17 points, including 9 of 10 at the free throw line. Jaylen Barford and Dusty Hannahs each added 13.
Terence Davis led Ole Miss with 26 points.
This was the first time these teams have played in the SEC tournament, and they turned in a doozy after Arkansas routed Ole Miss 98-80 on Feb. 18.
Ole Miss, fresh off beating hapless Missouri in the Rebels' tournament opener, jumped out to a 17-8 lead on a 3-pointer by Davis. After that, neither team led by more than six in a game featuring 13 ties, including 40-40 at halftime, along with 12 lead changes.
Breein Tyree gave Ole Miss its last lead at 70-69 with a 3-pointer with 1:47 to go. The Rebels didn't score again until a layup that was too little and too late.
With Moses Kingsley helping harass Sebastian Saiz, the Ole Miss senior who was the SEC's only player to average a double-double this season into just nine points and 17 rebounds.
Deandre Burnett added 16 points, and Tyree had 13 for Ole Miss.
Ole Miss: The Rebels, who lead both the SEC and the nation with the most made free throws, just couldn't get to the line enough with Saiz. He was just 1 of 2 at the line. They also didn't help themselves from 3-point range, missing their first five in the second half trying to match the speedy Razorbacks up and down the court. They finished 1 of 10 beyond the arc in the second half and 8 of 28 for the game despite outrebounding Arkansas 49-39.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks already had their sights set on their second NCAA Tournament berth in three seasons for the first time in nine seasons. They improved to 23-24 in this tournament and now are a win away from playing in the title game for the second time in three years.
Ole Miss: Decide whether or not to play in a smaller postseason tournament.
Arkansas: Vanderbilt in the semifinals on Saturday.