Rebs win with dramatic finish to keep rolling

C.M. "Tad" SMITH COLISEUM - There'd been games like this played here before. But more of them didn't finish like this than did.

When Clarence Sanders' two-point jumper from not too far inside the 3-point arc over in front of Section G swished through like the proverbial "string music" for a 71-70 Ole Miss lead on LSU, it might or might not have been the shot that wins the SEC West this year. That remains to be seen.

What it certainly was, now that Alabama lost to Florida Wednesday night, was the shot that put a still unheralded but getting better every day Ole Miss Rebel team into sole possession of first place in that Western Division with five big games to go.

Win them all and they are the undisputed champs of the SEC West. Winning them all, however, will be a difficult task. Of course, they may not have to win them all to claim the title. As usual, it will depend on what other teams do as well.

But the Rebels have now won four games in a row, so who knows?

Who truly knows?

Not Andy Kennedy. But the Rebels' first-year head coach is beginning to believe that anything may just be possible with this ballclub. The stats leaned heavily in LSU's favor, like 61 percent shooting for the Tigers to 45 percent for Ole Miss; 37 rebounds to 23; 10 free throws made on the road to four for the home team.

Here's what Kennedy said about that.

"I'll tell you what that tells me," he said. "It tells me it might be our time."

Teams of destiny find ways. Not that this team of Kennedy's is without question one of those destined groups. But the story it is writing this season is one that nobody on the planet expected.

Sanders, with 29 points to lead all scorers, said this about "the shot."

"It felt good as soon as it left my hands," he said. "My mind told me to pump fake and try to draw a foul, but I had to let it go. I was too hot."

There were a lot of role players in this one, along with the heroes. How about Kenny Williams putback slam of a Bam Doyne missed 3-pointer that cut the LSU lead to 70-69? That Williams was there and able to do that also helped set things up for the drama to end this one.

Brian Smith, one of the stars of the game, explained what happened at the end like this.

On LSU's possession with the Tigers up a point, driving downcourt, and the clock winding down from 13.9 seconds: "They just kinda lobbed it (near midcourt) and I stole it and bobbled it and it left my hands, and Kenny (Williams) grabbed it. Kenny dribbled once and I yelled for the ball. He pitched it to me, I threw it to Todd (Abernethy), and he found Clarence (Sanders)."

Swish. Pandemoneum at the Pad.

But there was .6 seconds left. LSU had the basketball. It looked like the Tigers would try a just inside half-court heave from Big Baby Glen Davis to win it - or at least something along those lines. Kind of a Christian Laettner shot, the one you've seen replayed many times, from back in the early 1990s when he and Duke beat Kentucky in a similar situation in the NCAA Tournament.

Rick Pitino was the Kentucky coach back then. Brian's dad, Tubby, is the UK coach now, and Brian knows his Wildcat history, it appears. Or at least he's seen the Laettner shot like the rest of us have.

Smith, who tipped the ball away allowing the clock to run out, explains: "On the throw in, they were trying to go to Big Baby, trying to get a half-court Christian Laettner shot, because they only had .6 seconds left. And they lobbed it again. They didn't throw like a line drive. With my quickness, I just tipped it."

If LSU had gotten a third try there at the end, maybe they wouldn't have lobbed the basketball. And maybe they would have tried to throw it away from Brian Smith.

But they didn't and LSU Coach John Brady said his team gave it away.

"We had this one done, had it won," he said. "This was a gift. We outplayed them all over the floor."

Here are a couple of key stats in the Rebs' favor. How about only four turnovers the entire game? Four, while LSU had 16.

And 12 points, 11 assists for Abernethy.

Todd put the entire night into his own personal perspective.

"It was unlike any game I've ever played," said the Hoosier, basically born with a basketball and certainly into a basketball family. "I've just never experienced anything like this before.

"With the way we played. With the way they played down low," Abernethy said. "They were tough, so tough. It was like we weren't supposed to be in that position."

But they were. And they are. And, at 17-8 overall and 6-5 in SEC play, there are a lot more games to play.

Arkansas, a 24-point loser to Mississippi State Wednesday night, is up next on Saturday at 4 p.m. in Fayetteville.

"We're excited about the future," Todd said, talking about the immediate road ahead and what the next few weeks might hold for these Rebels. "We've got to finish this thing."

Todd gave props to his fellow guard Brian Smith.

"He played so well there at the end," Todd said, ultimately repeating himself and still an hour after "the shot" trying to clear his head and sift through it all. "Got that steal and then got the tip to end the game. He was awesome. He was awesome."

Smith said he's just doing what a basketball player is supposed to do.

"I'm just used to being ready when my name is called," he said. "I'm glad to be at Ole Miss. We're getting better each game."

Without a doubt they are that.

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