Ole Miss plays on.
And what a way to advance.
The Rebels, a No. 5 seed in the NIT, went into the Carrier Dome — an historically difficult venue for opposing teams — and took down No. 1 seed Syracuse, 85-80, Saturday morning. With the win, Ole Miss advances to host a third-round game at The Pavilion against either Georgia Tech or Belmont on Tuesday.
It’s difficult to overstate how impressive of a win Saturday was for Ole Miss in its first-ever meeting with Syracuse in school history. Just this season Syracuse claimed home wins over Duke, Florida State and Virginia at home. Duke is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Florida State and Virginia are a No. 3 and a No. 5, respectively. And the Rebels were able to pull it off by following the blueprint laid out by head coach Andy Kennedy earlier this week.
Arguably no team has been more effective in defensive efficiency while utilizing the 2-3 zone than Syracuse under Jim Boeheim. It’s a somewhat simplistic observation, but to beat the Orange at what it does well, a team has to make shots, specifically contested 3-point attempts. Syracuse provides opposing teams no other choice. The 2-3 zone is the staple of the Hall of Fame career of Boeheim. There’s a reason Syracuse has had such an extended, sustained run of success.
And Ole Miss made shots. In the second half, especially.
Deandre Burnett has had a very much up-and-down debut season, but the junior Rebel guard has been on a roll in his last four games. He’s scored no less than 16 points in four straight, including 19 on 7 of 11 from the floor and 5 of 9 from 3 against the Orange. Burnett made a some 30-foot 3 as time expired in the first half to pull the Rebels to within two, 38-36, at the break, and he connected on another with just over a minute remaining in the game and the clock winding down to all but put the game away.
It bears repeating: Burnett is but one of a handful of meaningful contributors who return for the Rebels next season. Terence Davis is another. He scored 30 points — his second game of 30 points or more — in the win, again showing why he’s, without question, the most improved player in the SEC, and one of the most improved in all of college basketball. If there was ever a question of his star potential, or his immeasurably high ceiling, he proved again why Ole Miss is so bullish about his future leading the program. Next season, as far as the roster is concerned, is shaping up to be the greatest collection of talent and depth Kennedy has ever had. That many of the players that will comprise the roster are having success in postseason games is invaluable.
Ole Miss, now 22-13 on the season and 6-6 in road gyms, finally returns home. The Rebels certainly had to earn their way. The winner of that game heads off to New York for the semifinals at Madison Square Garden March 28. Ole Miss has twice (2008 and 2010) made the NIT Final Four. The Pavilion, in all likelihood, will have its biggest crowd of the season. It will be another nice notch on the belt of an Ole Miss team that flirted with NCAA Tournament contention all year, only heightening expectations for what the Rebels can be a year from now.
Because beating Syracuse at Syracuse is no easy task, to say the least. And such a win is the mark of NCAA Tournament teams. Each season is unique unto itself, to be sure, but what Ole Miss is doing this March is important and worthy of your attention. It could very well be a preview of what's to come.
The Rebels are still alive. Actually, they’re living it up. March Madness, indeed.
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On the win: “I’m proud of this group. When you look back, and we all get caught up int he moment, but when you have a chance to come and play an icon like Jim Boeheim in this setting, in postseason — I don’t know if I’ve ever played a game at 10 a.m. Oxford time, so I was a little worried about that — but our guys were excited about this opportunity to come in and play a Syracuse team that many thought was deserving of going to the tournament. The storied history speaks for itself, but they went to the the NCAA Final Four last year. Got terrific players. We knew that zone was going to get big and extended, and we knew we were going to have to make shots. We had guys in the right spots. We had them in the right spots early. We missed a bunch of shots in the first half. We said, hey, just settle down, catch it in rhythm, help your teammate get a look. And we stepped up. Obviously T.D., what a game, huh? What a year this kid’s had.”
Ole Miss guard Terence Davis
On the win: “It felt really good. Anytime you get a road win, it’s pretty good. But to come into the Carrier Dome and get a major road win? In the NIT second round? It just feels really good. Our team feels great about this win, and we’re going to go back home and celebrate.” On making shots against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone: “We knew coming into the game in order for us to win, we were going to have to make shots and make plays. That’s what we did down the stretch.” On returning home for the third round: “It’ll be great. God got us a home game. I just look forward to it.” On improving from his freshman year to his sophomore year: “I just stayed down and worked every day. I didn’t want to settle. I didn’t really play much last year. As I was sitting on the bench, it was just going through my mind that, hey, I can play with these guys. I just continued to work.”
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — (AP) Terence Davis made 6 of 7 3-pointers and scored 30 points to lead fifth-seeded Mississippi to an 85-80 upset of No. 1 Syracuse in the NIT on Saturday.
Ole Miss (22-13) advanced to a quarterfinal game at home Tuesday against the winner of Sunday's game between Georgia Tech and Belmont.
Deandre Burnett, who added 19 points and nine assists, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:26 left after Andrew White III made a 3 to tie it 74-all.
Burnett was 5 for 9 on 3s, and the Rebels were 15 of 33 from beyond the arc against Syracuse's zone defense.
Cullen Neal had 15 points for the Rebels and Sebastian Saiz had 10 points to go with 12 rebounds for his 22nd double-double of the season.
White and Taurean Thompson led Syracuse (19-15) with 18 points apiece. Tyus Battle added 17 points and Tyler Lydon had 15 points and 14 rebounds.