A last-second uncontested bank shot by Georgia's Dave Bliss from just to the right of the lane finally ended it. The Bulldogs, who won 97-95 against Ole Miss, live to play another day, facing SEC East second-place Kentucky Friday night.
The Rebels, although they lost the game, live to play next week, but not where they wanted to. Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said he's a realist. He's certain the NCAA Tournament is no longer in his 2007-08 team's future.
"We're not going to the NCAA Tournament," Kennedy said when asked by a reporter what he thought his team's chances were at getting an invitation to the Big Dance following the loss. "You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that."
And "that" is a tough thing to swallow – for players, for coaches, and for fans.
Way back when, Ole Miss appeared to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. But in actuality there are few locks in early January.
The Rebels came to the Southeastern Conference Tournament in this Georgia city with getting there on their minds. But they absolutely had to get past the homestate team to do so.
It was a Bulldog team with a mediocre record of 13-16 overall and 4-12 in SEC play that Ole Miss had just beaten handily 76-62 last Saturday - in Athens.
Georgia played anything but mediocre in this one. And the Rebels, who fell to 21-10 after a 7-9 SEC season, couldn't make enough plays to win back to back games over the Bulldogs.
But they almost did.
Down by four points at halftime (44-40) and by 13 points with 13 minutes to go (63-50), the Rebels battled as they had the last three games and a half of the regular season.
Like they did in the second half of a close loss at Kentucky. Like they did in home wins over Alabama and Arkansas. Like they did in the lone road win of the conference season just an hour's drive east of here.
The run for the Rebs was 11-0 from being down 65-57 until a 3-pointer by David Huertas put Ole Miss up 68-65 as at least a couple of thousand in red and blue – more than there appeared to be in red and black - roared their approval in the massive Georgia Dome late on Thursday night.
Georgia's Terrence Woodbury's 16-foot jumper stopped the bleeding and pulled the Bulldogs to within a point at 68-67. After Dwayne Curtis missed a jumper and fouled immediately thereafter, Woodbury made one and missed one at the line to pull the Bulldogs even at 68-68. That was with 7:28 to go in the contest.
Ole Miss didn't lead again in regulation and only a Billy Humphrey foul of a Huertas 3-point attempt with seven seconds left gave the Rebels life. But Huertas had to make all three, and he did.
Tied 84-84, Woodbury had an open look but his shot came after the buzzer and woudn't have counted had it gone in.
In overtime, Kenny Williams was fouled on a layup and converted the free throw for an 87-84 UM lead.
After Georgia pulled to within one at 87-86, Curtis was fouled but made missed one and made one for an 88-86 Rebel lead. After a Georgia miss, Curtis scored on a layup and was fouled for a 90-86 UM lead but missed the free throw shot.
The Bulldogs scored the next seven points to regain the upper hand and the momentum at 93-90. Curtis almost tied the game on a long jumper that was actually reviewed by the officials. But it was credited as a two-pointer, and Ole Miss trailed 93-92 with 15.5 seconds to go in overtime.
Williams fouled Sundiata Gaines, who made two free throws to extend the Georgia lead to 95-92 with 10.1 seconds left.
As dramatic as Huertas' three straight free throws in regulation were, Chris Warren was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Corey Butler with 5.5 seconds to go. The freshman went to the line and made all three free throws to tie it 95-95.
After a timeout, Georgia got the ball in to Butler who drove it downcourt and found the open Bliss, who launched the game-winner with .4 to go. One final more-than-halfcourt heave by Eniel Polynice missed its mark, and the most dramatic game of day one at the SEC tourney came to a close.
"The play was actually designed to get the ball to Sundiata and hit him with a back screen coming up the court," Bliss said. "But two of their guys ended up going to Sundiata, and Corey was wide open on the other side. He just brought the ball up, and I kind of spaced off a little bit and he made a great pass. And I hit the shot."
"It was designed to get the ball into Sundiata's hands to make that sort of play," Georgia Coach Dennis Felton said. "But they double-teamed him. They took Sundiata away and in doing so left Corey not only open to catch it but open with space. I don't know if he heard me or not, but I just screamed for him to push it. David made a terrific shot. For a second I thought David was going to get a layup. But he ended up making the little bank shot."
"Our players didn't want to foul," Kennedy said. "He (Butler) was going full speed at the rim. So (our players) are backing off while still trying to stay in line. He (Bliss) just made a tremendous shot."
A shot that basically ended the last best hope Ole Miss had of making the NCAA Tournament and that was to win a game or two or three here this weekend.
Huertas had 29 points to lead Ole Miss, including 7-11 from 3-point range and 4-4 from the free throw line. Curtis had 26.
Woodbury had 25 for Georgia while Gaines had 22 and Albert Jackson 10.
Georgia's Gaines was 11-13 at the free throw line, while Bulldog Billy Humphrey was 8-8 and Woodbury 4-6.
For the game the Rebels shot 47 percent to Georgia's 54 percent. From 3-point range Ole Miss was 9-22 for 41 percent and the Bulldogs were 7-17 for 41 percent. From the free throw line Ole Miss was 20-27 for 74 percent and Georgia was 26-32 for 81 percent.
Ole Miss outrebounded Georgia 37-36. Georgia had 12 fast-break points to two for the Rebels. Ole Miss had 29 second-chance points to 13 for the Bulldogs.
"I thought the game was played at a very high level," Felton said. "I thought both teams played extremely well. I feel really fortunate that we were able to make that last shot and not have to play another overtime, because we don't have nearly the depth that Ole Miss has."
"Georgia controlled the game for the most part," Kennedy said. "We gave ourselves a chance by going into the overtime. And then I thought we had the momentum for the first time, but we just didn't get it done.
"I'm a big believer that you get what you deserve," Kennedy concluded, "and tonight I believe Georgia deserved to win. They just made one more play than we did."
Bliss for Bulldogs as Rebs fall in round one
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