Two weeks ago today, the Ole Miss Rebels were in a similar situation, a close battle late against Arkansas. Things didn't go well at the end, and that one got away in a 66-65 loss.
Today was different. Snapping a three-game losing streak which began with that setback to the Razorbacks, the Rebels defeated Tennessee 60-58 when things did go right at the end.
"I'm excited and happy for our kids and our staff," said Ole Miss Coach Rod Barnes, whose team improved to 13-13 overall and 4-9 in Southeastern Conference play. "Our guys have hung in there through some tough games. I felt like they were just deserving to get a win. This was a tough win. We needed it."
This one came down to a last-ditch offensive possession for the Volunteers. After senior center Tommie Eddie sank two big free throws with 32.7 seconds to go (he was 3-for-8 in the game until then) to give his team a 59-58 lead, the Vols brought the ball to their offensive end of the court and called timeout with 14.3 seconds left.
Sophomore guard Dane Bradshaw threw the ball in to junior guard C.J. Watson, who then dished to freshman guard Chris Lofton (who led the Vols with 17 points) with seven seconds left. When Lofton couldn't get open because of junior Rebel Londrick Nolen's defense, he hit an open Bradshaw who shot a 3 with two seconds left. The shot bounced off and was rebounded by Cavadas Nunnery.
With 1.1 seconds left, the UM senior point guard was fouled by Andre Patterson under the Volunteers' goal. To the other end they walked, and Nunnery made the first but missed the second. Nunnery ran into the lane to fight Bradshaw for the rebound as time expired on the Rebels' two-point victory.
"We wanted the basketball in the hands of Lofton (for the final shot)," said UT head coach Buzz Peterson, whose team fell to 11-14 and 4-8. "But he couldn't get one. I think he surprised Dane and all of us when he dished it off to Dane instead."
In the first half, Tennessee moved out to an 11-point lead at 27-16 before Justin Johnson bombed a trey which cut it to 27-19 with 3:33 to go before halftime. The UT lead swelled to 12 points at 31-19 before Ole Miss cut it to eight points at the break with the Vols leading 31-23.
The Rebels came out blazing in the second half. Ole Miss scored the first eight points of the second half to tie the game at 31-31. Ole Miss sophomore guard Todd Abernethy gave the Rebels their first lead since early in the game on a 3-point basket which made it 34-33 four minutes into the second half. Ole Miss hadn't led since it was up 15-14 with 10 minutes to go in the first half.
The Rebels were able to maintain a small lead much of the rest of the way, with the largest at five points on three occasions. After Ole Miss was up 52-47 on an Eddie layup with 4:36 left, UT recaptured the lead at 55-54, setting up the fireworks of the final two minutes.
When Lofton nailed a 3-pointer for a 58-57 Tennessee lead with a minute to play, the race to the finish was on.
After a not-so-stellar first half, the Rebels hustled in the second half like a team on a mission. Barnes said at halftime the players knew he meant business when he came into the locker room right away.
"I was probably, how should I say it, as excited as I've been at halftime in a while," Barnes said. "I normally go talk to the coaches first (in another room), but this time I went straight to talk to the players. I was on our guys pretty good. I didn't think we were playing with any excitement. I wasn't going to tolerate that. I think the players were a little surprised I was in there that early at halftime. We stayed in there a little while and got some things straightened out."
Eddie agreed that his head coach woke them up and got them focused at intermission.
"It was allright with us," Eddie said. "We know how to take that. We're all family and we knew we were trying to win together. It motivated us, and it motivated me. Coach told me to go out there and just destroy them down low. That's what I did."
"I'm happy for Tommie Eddie," Barnes said of the Rebel senior center, who had 21 points and five rebounds, with 17 of those points coming in the second half. "He had really been struggling. He got his hand (wrist) hurt against Alabama (a week ago). I've been on him about that, that he can't be concerned about it, because his career here at Ole Miss is about over. Obviously he was a big part of this win today. The reason Kendrick Fox (13 points) and Justin Johnson (11 points) were able to jump up and make some shots today was because we had some presence inside thanks to Tommie."
Barnes said that while they would love to have some wins back that got away from them earlier in the season, all they can do now is focus on the task at hand.
"This team deserves a winning season," Barnes said. "We're still trying to make it happen, and there are opportunities left for us to make it happen."
The Rebels' next game is in a week, at Mississippi State Saturday night at 6 on Fox Sports Net.
Rebs slip past Vols 60-58
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