AK: No moral victories at Ole Miss anymore

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The final horn sounded and Tennessee had won. Andy Kennedy, following the traditional after-game moments of courtesy afforded the opposing team and coaches, headed toward the locker room. But not before lending a hand to one of his own.

Kennedy, head bowed as he walked, went to the end of the Rebels' bench as the orange-clad crowd roared its approval of victory and Rocky Top blared from the UT pep band across the court. There, Jermey Parnell sat all alone, unable to move.

He could hardly walk; couldn't at all without assistance, it appeared. He definitely needed some help.

(To get the answer to your obvious question out of the way, it isn't known how severe his injury, a turned ankle less than three minutes into the second half, is at this point. He's "day to day" according to Kennedy.)

Emotionally charged throughout as usual and as disappointed as he could possibly be with the loss, Kennedy extended an arm to one of his warriors, bent down, and lifted him up, and the two began walking toward the tunnel as a few Ole Miss fans in the vicinity applauded their teams' gallant effort.

This loss was tough to take, and it was right there for the taking. But the Rebels, who fell for the first time in 14 games this season, couldn't do in this one what they've been able to do all year – finish.

But oh did they try. Down 12 midway through the second half, they battled all the way back and more. Took a four-point lead with 2:22 to go in the game at 83-79 and appeared to have things just where they wanted them. But they'd score no more and Tyler Smith's two-point basket with 4.2 seconds left gave UT an 85-83 lead. Chris Warren, so spectacular all season and again in this one, lifted one last shot toward the goal at the buzzer. But....

....the Rebels just needed one more something to go right. One more basket here or there. A couple more free throws. One more call. Or one less turnover. Just something. It was that close and it came down to just that, in some form or fashion.

Games like this often do. These are two giants of the SEC this season. Both these teams will move on from here and win lots of games. Tennessee, like the Rebs now 13-1, just happened to win this one on its homecourt on this night.

It's a game that both teams should have been proud to be involved in. But there was clearly joy and happiness on one side, misery and despair on the other.

Kennedy did not hesitate to sum up his feelings on the loss and on the Rebels' opportunity to bounce back Saturday at home against LSU.

"I appreciate the fact that we're ranked. I think it's good for our kids and good for our university. But we really don't get caught up in all that," Kennedy said, his voice rising and his words emerging with more emphasis.

"We're disappointed obviously, and hopefully we can learn something and get better as a group. They played as hard as they could play, but we've still got a long way to go. We have far too many breakdowns on both ends, but I'm proud of the effort.

"We came up short, and we've got to regroup quickly. We've got another one coming up Saturday."

Hopefully with one of his big men back, the one he helped get up off the bench when he couldn't move on his own.

"It hurt us," he said of losing Parnell. "It hurt our rotation. He's one of our seniors who has been in these wars before. I thought he gave us great energy. It was a very physical game, and it was a game decided by two good teams. We knew we weren't going to back our way into a victory in this environment. We knew we'd have to come out and attempt to take it, and we tried. We just came up short."

Very, very short. But with every intention of bouncing back in their next one.

"I know this. I know the mood in that (locker) room," Kennedy said. "I know a lot of people are going to look at this as a moral victory. We're way beyond that at Ole Miss. Some people may not want to believe that, but we're way beyond that. That group is crushed in there. We came in here with the full expectation of winning this game."

And now with every expectation of bouncing back on Saturday.

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