For a couple of weeks, the Ole Miss men's basketball team was missing in action or should we say missing action.
They had lost the energy level and intensity that had earned them a 13-0 record and a Top 20 ranking.
Old coaching cliches kept popping up everywhere. "They lost their stinger.". . . . "Their dobber was down.". . .
Or, as Austin Powers would say, they've "lost their mojo."
Last Saturday was the low point when Auburn stormed into Tad Smith Coliseum with a five-game losing streak and left the decisive owner of a one-game win streak. They literally ran the Rebs - a 13-point favorite - off their own court. Rock bottom, here we are. . . .
Needless to say, theories, opinions and criticisms were bountiful. Fans were writing eulogies and obituaries, and conveniently working in that wonderful refrain of "can't wait for baseball."
After the Auburn disaster, it truly was time for a soul-searching by the Rebels. More cliches - now-or-never, do-or-die, must-win - were being tossed about concerning the upcoming game against the Bullies, who are leading the SEC West and would surely sweep the regular season series by simply showing up.
A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral parlor, the Rebs found themselves and as suddenly as they started doubting themselves, their verve returned.
I got a hint something was brewing Wednesday morning. First, I saw AK in the Beacon eating breakfast - first time I'd seen him in there. His relaxed mood was obvious, which made me do a double take. OK, I said to me, this guy has either lost his mind or he knows something the rest of us don't.
Curious, I called Assistant Coach Michael White. His downtrodden tone from after the Auburn game had turned to the upbeat banter of a Little League shortstop.
"We had some great practices and some really beneficial team meetings," White said. "State will get all we've got tonight."
I've known Michael a long time. He's a straight shooter. His positive tone, coupled with AK's nonchalance at breakfast, were telltale signs the Rebs were focused.
MSU came out on fire, but for the first time in several weeks, the Rebels answered and weathered the early Bulldog barrage. Even though the Rebs trailed 23-16, they went on a 15-2 frenzied run with over 9,000 fans going bonkers spurring them on, and never looked back.
A strong start to the second half gave them enough cushion to hold off a late State charge and the Rebels closed the game with confidence, making free throws, taking care of the ball and making the Bullies submit with a minute left on the clock.
AK's strategy of moving Eniel Polynice to the point position and Chris Warren to the shooting guard slot paid big dividends. Eniel got in a better rhythm than he has been in and Chris doesn't seem to care where you put him as long as it's on the court. (Kudos to the job Polynice did on Jamont Gordon as well. Ole Miss' defensive energy, I believe, started with Eniel and trickled down.)
On this night, Ole Miss was clearly the better basketball team. They clearly wanted the win more. They clearly returned to the form they had when they were winning regularly.
They clearly found their mojo and reloaded their stinger.
And although that's "just" one game, it was huge. We'd be kicking dirt on the grave without that win.
After the game, I text AK. "Beautiful!"
His response was brief, but right on point.
"Still breathing. . . . . "
The Rebs had come close to drowning, but somehow they found the strength and want-to to make one last kick toward the surface for a needed breath.
Now we'll see if they stay afloat and start swimming to shore. The guess here is that they will.
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