But on Saturday in Athens, Andy Kennedy's team buckled down and blew away Georgia.
Trailing by seven points with just more than 13 minutes remaining, Ole Miss kept its NCAA hopes alive by supplying a pivotal 24-6 run to sprint past Georgia 76-62 in the final regular season game for both squads. The Rebels are now 21-9 overall and 7-9 in the SEC and will face the same group of Bulldogs (13-16, 4-12) Thursday in Atlanta during the first round of the SEC Tournament.
Ole Miss is the West 3 seed. Georgia is sixth in the East.
The Rebels set a goal three games ago when deciding that 23 wins were the magic number for NCAA participation. Three victories later, Ole Miss is more than halfway towards that feat. Surviving is all that matters at this point.
"We are still alive and still breathing," Kennedy said. "That is all you want at this stage of the season. The magic number is 23. Anything less and you put yourself at the mercy of many factors you can't control."
It was senior day for the Bulldogs, but Ole Miss' senior frontcourt put on an exhibition instead. Dwayne Curtis tied a team high with 15 points, while Jermey Parnell and Kenny Williams supplied 13 and 14 respectively. Parnell appeared to re-injure his ankle during the second half but returned two minutes later to finalize his best performance of the season.
"It is always gratifying to see the upperclassmen have success," Kennedy said. "We had to breakthrough, and they willed us to do that. These seniors still have opportunities. Jermey was explosive, Kenny had some moments, and Dwayne was terrific. But it was Parnell that carried us to a must win."
To go along with the senior big men, Chris Warren put up 15 and David Huertas added 10.
The Rebels shot 48 percent from the floor and held the Bulldogs to 31 percent. Ole Miss struggled from behind the arc at 4-19 but converted free throws down the stretch to finish 22-33 at the charity stripe.
Following two Dave Bliss free throws to push the Georgia lead to seven, Ole Miss spurted for a 10-0 run and extended the advantage with a 14-6 clip right after to pull away. The Bulldogs went ice cold from the field after the momentum change. The Rebels outscored Georgia 41-30 after intermission.
"We guarded much better, and we found their shooters," Kennedy said. "The defense packed it in and gave them trouble with the zone. We have been looking for the right approach and to give us a chance. Maybe this game will show them that they can accomplish a lot with the right mindset."
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