JONESBORO, Ark. – It all came down to making a shot, a basket, any shot, any basket in the game's final minutes.
But for the Ole Miss Rebels, it didn't happen.
With a chance to win an early-season road game in a tough environment against a quality opponent Wednesday night, Ole Miss fell to Arkansas State 70-68 in a game that went to the wire before an announced crowd of 7,281 at the Convocation Center on the ASU campus.
When junior Londrick Nolen, who had his best game as a Rebel with 21 points on 8-14 shooting including 5-7 from 3-point range, hit a 3-point shot with 3:57 to go in the game, the Rebels led 68-64.
They would not score again. But oh did they have their chances.
On one trip, sophomore Todd Abernethy missed a short jumper. On another senior Justin Johnson missed a trey.
Abernethy, usually clutch at the line, missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Nolen later missed a jump shot.
With the Rebels down 69-68, Abernethy missed a 3-pointer, senior center Tommie Eddie then got the rebound and missed a putback. Then Nolen missed a short jumper, then Eddie missed again. All totaled the Rebels had some seven chances at that point to put the ball in the hoop to take the lead but could not get it down.
On the other end, Eddie fouled ASU's Marcus Ardison with four seconds left and the Indian made one of two for the 70-68 lead.
Johnson for the Rebels got off a 3-point shot before the buzzer but missed.
Ole Miss had lost to Arkansas State 74-69 in Oxford to open the season last year. The Indians are now 3-1 this season with only a 79-75 loss at Memphis on the negative side of the ledger.
Arkansas State Coach Dickey Nutt said this Ole Miss team is better than last year's edition of the Rebels.
"They had two great players last year and that was their nucleus and strength," he said. "We felt like we could shut down their two best players and have a good chance to win the game. Now you can't do that. They keep running guys in and out of there. They have recruited shooters. And they have good inside play. They're a much better basketball team. They'll have some success this year."
Ole Miss Coach Barnes was pleased with his team's effort and felt it was a game that certainly could have gone either way.
"We're a team that's improving," said Barnes, whose squad fell to 2-3 on the year with wins over South Carolina State and Tennessee Tech and setbacks to Air Force, Illinois State, and Arkansas State. "We've got to keep working to get better. But tonight it just didn't happen for us. Almost, but not quite."
The Rebels, who shot a sizzling 60 percent (15-25) in the first half, including 67 percent (8-12) from 3-point range, led 40-26 with 4:40 to go before halftime. But the Indians rolled off eight straight points to close the half and trailed only 40-34 at the break.
ASU picked up in the second half right where it left off in the first half, scoring the first four points to cap a 12-0 run to that point.
The scoring streak for the Indians finally ended when Nolen nailed a trey for a 43-38 UM lead at the 18:41 mark of the second half.
The game remained tight until Ole Miss stretched the lead out to 59-52 following a layup by Eddie with 8:15 left. But over the next seven minutes, the homestanding Indians were able to come all the way back and finally retake the lead at 69-68 on Isaac Wells' layup with 1:29 remaining.
"It was a physical game and both teams played hard," Barnes said. "We got them down early and Arkansas State hung in there. We got some great looks late but we couldn't get it down. We had the guys with the ball that we wanted. We knew coming in this game would come down to the wire. I'm pleased with our kids' efforts. We executed better, and now we move on from here."
Ole Miss ended up shooting only 32 percent in the second half (9-28) for a total in the contest of 45 percent (24-53). From 3-point range the Rebs ended 11-23 for 48 percent.
ASU shot 46 percent (26-57) for the contest including 7-18 (39 percent) from 3-point range. ASU led in the rebounding department 36-31.
Each team had 11 turnovers, and UM had 14 assists to ASU's 12.
In addition to Nolen's 21, Eddie had 18 and Johnson 11 for the Rebs.
ASU had five players in double figures, led by Jerry Nichols with 14.
Ole Miss hosts Florida State of the ACC Saturday at 1 p.m. in C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum.
ASU clips UM in close battle
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