Deep breath comes after loss rather than win

It's going to happen sometimes. When it does, it's never easy to accept.

An unexpected loss, that is. Ole Miss fans are sick about losing a winnable game on the SEC road at Auburn. North Carolina fans must feel at least as bad after losing their No. 1 ranking at home to Maryland.

The most disappointing aspect of the Rebels' 80-77 setback to the Tigers is that they could have gone into a week between games with a sparkling 3-1 record in league play and an amazing 16-1 overall mark awaiting the polls which they would surely move up in.

Didn't happen. Move on from here. To that week between games followed by a trip to league leading Mississippi State, who is 4-0 in conference play, 13-5 overall and playing better than it has all season.

Today's game was not Ole Miss' best this season. Not by a long shot. But it's hard to go back and figure out exactly where Ole Miss' best games were this season. A lot of the outcomes have been similar.

Maybe a 3-point win over Clemson was their best. They smothered Southern Miss pretty well and handled a couple of the more winnable non-conference games with relative ease. They also played well against New Mexico at home and at Central Florida.

What I had sensed earlier this week was that this effort to win at Auburn would be one more push toward that break of a week between games. A season can be divided into several portions. With the week break, the Rebels were trying to get that one more win before taking a collective deep breath.

But they didn't quite make it. Jermey Parnell's ankle didn't allow for it. Dwayne Curtis, his feet giving him problems again, is a little banged up as well. Terrence Watson hasn't seen the floor much since an ankle injury weeks ago. Brian Smith's number wasn't called all day. David Huertas continues to struggle in league games, after some games late in the non-conference where it appeared he was making headway.

Sigh. But it didn't happen for the Rebels today. Double sigh. And it pains.

So it's regroup time for this team. They haven't had much experience with that, but now they have to. Veteran teams have to shake days like this off. So do young teams. With two of their four seniors never touching the floor and not a single junior taking the court at all, that's an awfully young team of Rebels who lost at Auburn today.

That it's at arch-rival Mississippi State that they have to pick up the pieces won't make it any easier a week from today. But that is their charge.

You could point to several places in this game where it "got away" from the Rebels. None was more apparent than when Ole Miss took a 60-54 lead on a Chris Warren 3-pointer and then the Rebels proceeded to go downcourt the next 16 times and fail to score a single point on 15 of those trips.

Missed shots. Missed free throws. Turnovers. You name it. It happened. All the while Auburn was moving out to a 70-63 lead and the Rebs were in a heap of trouble.

But this season is not. It'll be tough in Starkville just like always. Ole Miss hasn't won a men's basketball game there in 10 years, when current assistant coach Michael White was a junior point guard for the Rebels.

But they'll give it their best shot, and they're certainly capable of winning there. Their chances of winning improve if they get some healthy bodies back and some productivity out of some whose roles and positive minutes have waned a bit.

Unless your team is a healthy, veteran, experienced, greatly talented team, there'll be days like today. Even then, they sometimes happen. Ask North Carolina.

And over time, it all seems to even out when it comes to things like close games. The Rebels have won some close ones this season – 81-78 against South Alabama, six points over DePaul, seven against LaSalle, 85-82 vs. Clemson.

They beat LSU by three and Florida by two. Lost to Tennessee by two and Auburn by three.

We all hoped to take that collective breath after another win, this time on the SEC road. The loss today makes things a little tougher, but there's a long way to go – to crown an SEC winner or an SEC West champ or to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years.

Any of the above is an acceptable accomplishment for this year's ballclub and another sign that things continue to look up for Rebel basketball.

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