Rebels can't stop hot Commodores

Ole Miss fell behind hot-shooting Vandy early as the Commodores came to Oxford on a mission - an NCAA tourney bid mission.

It was more of the same for the Ole Miss men's basketball team as for the 11th time in their last 12 games they lost - this time a 77-62 setback to Vanderbilt.

As the Rebels fell to 14-14 overall and 4-11 in Southeastern Conference play, Londrick Nolen was the lone senior honored for Senior Night. But there was more speculation circling about the future of head coach Rod Barnes than any other aspect of this one. There was no discussion in the press conference that followed the contest concerning his job security. There is another game to be played in the regular season this Saturday at LSU.

But it's obvious the season has taken its toll on the players and their head coach. At this point there is still, as there has been for a few games, some soul-searching and acceptance of responsibility for the season's demise.

"There is pressure, and it's our fault," said Ole Miss junior guard Todd Abernethy, who had only three points and three assists in 28 minutes. "We have noone to blame but ourselves. We've had four or five chances to win a game to get to 15 wins. Now we have no choice but to go to LSU and try again and give it our best shot."

Abernethy said mentally the Rebels are admittedly drained at this point.

"The mental aspect is big, and we've been down for a while," he said. "Even when we lost that first one at Georgia. We'd been on such a high that when we lost it was tough for us. Then we lost five in a row and after you do that, you wonder if you can win. You almost forget what it tastes like to win. It's been a tough season."

Abernethy said the Rebels are down but not out, even though it's tougher now than it's been.

"Obviously it is (tough to hang in there), but Coach (Barnes) is such a great example to us and such a great teacher to keep fighting and to stay the course and persevere. That's what we intend to do."

Vanderbilt jumped out early in this one and almost never looked back. Certainly the first-half stats proved that out as Vandy shot 75 percent from the floor (15-20) and 86 percent from 3-point range (6-7). Add to that a 5-6 first half (83 percent) from the free throw line and they were almost perfect.

Nolen had eight points and six rebounds in his final appearance at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum. The Memphian said the Commodores were hard to contain early.

"It was like they made all their early shots," Nolen said. "They were like 85 percent from the 3, which is unbelivable. They got off to that early start, and in this league it's hard to play catchup."

The Commodores led 30-13 before the Rebels got untracked. A Bam Doyne jumper pulled Ole Miss to within four at 35-31, but Vandy led 41-31 at halftime.

Vanderbilt wasn't quite as on in the second half but was still effective. The Commodores cooled to 52 percent (12-23) from the floor which was still an impressive 63 percent for the game.

The visitors continued to build their lead in the second half, and when Shan Foster scored on an old-fashioned three-point play (layup, free throw) with 11 minutes left, the Vandy lead was 61-41. All that was undecided was the margin of victory for the Commodores. A Foster 3-pointer gave Vandy its largest lead at 70-45 with 6:55 to go.

"They made great shots and I thought our team didn't switch (on defense) as well as we should," Nolen said, like Abernethy blaming the players as well. "Coach gave us instruction, but we didn't come through."

Dwayne Curtis led the Rebels with 15 points, followed by Jermey Parnell with 14. Vandy had three players in double figures - DeMarre Carroll with 19, Foster with 18, and Derrick Byers with 16.

"They just couldn't miss," Curtis said of Vandy early. "We got away from the gameplan at times. We let them backdoor us some. The first-half percentages speak for themselves."

Curtis agreed with his teammates that these are tough days for all concerned with the program.

"It's tough not to win a game and get over the hump," the sophomore center said. "It would be tough on anybody. But we're going to keep fighting."

Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings, whose team moved to 16-10 on the season and 7-8 in SEC play, said his team played like he had hoped it would in their situation.

"We looked like a team on a mission," said Stallings, whose team can continue to fight for an NCAA Tournament berth when it hosts Tennessee Saturday in Nashville. "Other than our inability to handle the basketball (the Commodores had 20 turnovers), I really liked our play tonight."

Barnes, whose team shot 40 percent (23-58) for the game, said the Rebels once again have to put a loss behind them and move ahead.

"This was another tough game for us," he said. "We have really struggled mentally the last few games. Now we have to try to do something nobody in the country thinks we can do, and that's go down and beat LSU on their homecourt."

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