NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Although some had wondered lately and others even said aloud that it might go on for a while, the end of the Rod Barnes era was bound to come sooner than later. It ended, at least basketball-wise, late Thursday afternoon in the Gaylord Entertainment Center to the Kentucky Wildcats 71-57.
The game showed marked improvement from the 80-40 loss the Rebels suffered in Lexington, Ky. just a couple of weeks earlier. Junior guard Clarence Sanders was not available for this one, suspended prior to the LSU game last weekend. No word on why he has not played the last two games. He scored nine points in the Rebels' loss at UK on Feb. 22.
But sophomore center Dwayne Curtis did play in this one, having missed the earlier encounter because of his brother's death.
Having Curtis play today helped. Having Sanders might have also aided the cause.
The Rebels led 29-26 at halftime and had led by as much as nine points (24-15) on a tipin by Jermey Parnell with 8:05 to go before intermission. He was also fouled but missed a free throw that would have put Ole Miss up 10 points.
The Rebels still got four straight offensive rebounds after that miss but a turnover gave the ball back to UK with some momentum as well. That's when the Wildcats went on an 11-5 run before the break to pull to within three.
In the second half, the Rebels fell behind 44-37 before making a run to tie it at 46-46. When Bam Doyne sank a 17-footer from the left corner, the Rebs had knotted the score with 6:34 to go. They still had a shot to pull off the upset.
But on UK's subsequent trip downcourt, Randolph Morris slipped through to the lane with an assist from Rajon Rondo, laid it in, was fouled, and sank his free throw to give the Cats a 49-46 lead.
They extended that lead quickly and a Rondo layup made it 59-48 with 3:30 to go. The outcome was no longer in doubt.
In the game's final minute, Barnes cleared his bench and allowed all players on the roster to play. Many in the building, including much of the large group of Kentucky fans, applauded as Barnes and his regulars embraced one last time.
"Going into the game we didn't have anything to lose," said junior guard Todd Abernethy. "We felt like Kentucky had pressure on them and we really didn't have any. We came out loose and free and fighting. I thought we played a great first half. We rebounded well and controlled the boards, made open shots. We were confident going into the second half. They came out and played a great second half and did what it took to win."
Curtis said he was pleased to get to help his teammates this time around.
"I hope my presence helped on the inside today," said Curtis, who had 13 points and 7 rebounds but only played 17 minutes because of foul trouble, picking up his fourth with 11:28 to go in the game. "I brought some of that today. I just wanted to get in there and be strong."
But the Rebels weren't strong enough as UK moved to 20-11 on the season and Ole Miss finished with its fourth straight losing season at 14-16.
"We're really happy to get this win under some circumstances there," said UK Coach Tubby Smith. "I was very impressed and very proud of the way his (Barnes) team competed and the effort they gave. Says a lot about what he means to those kids. We are excited about the opportunity to survive and advance to the next round."
The question of the day then became which Ole Miss players would return for next year. After polling them in the locker room among media members, it appears that the likely locks to return are the juniors - Abernethy and Bam Doyne.
"I've gotta come back and finish this thing up strong," Abernethy said, positive as usual.
Doyne was less sure but said most likely he would be in an Ole Miss uniform in 2006-07.
The rest of the players said they would examine their options, including staying with Ole Miss, and make a decision. Sanders, who could return, and point guard Justin Cerasoli, the transfer from Seton Hall with three years' eligibility remaining, were not with the team today - Sanders' explanation above, and Cerasoli not allowed to travel with the team while sitting out the season.
At the arena today were Ole Miss athletics officials Pete Boone, Walker Jones, John Hartwell, and Derek Horne. None were available for comments concerning the future of the program.
Barnes was asked again his feelings about his situation and like the previous several times declined comment.
"I'm not going to take those questions," he said. "We're going to talk about the tournament. We're going to talk about our kids. We're going to talk about how great the SEC is. We'll talk about Rod Barnes and things that are dealing with Rod Barnes and Ole Miss later. We won't do that today."
It was unclear if Barnes would have a statement at a later date or if anything at all would be said by him concerning his departure as the men's basketball head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels.
Rebs fall to Cats 71-57; new era begins
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