Ole Miss actually jumped out to a 3-0 lead and ignited its crowd when David Huertas nailed one from the right corner. But a couple of Ohio State baskets later and the Buckeyes led 4-3.
And led for good, save a tie moments later that was broken on a baseline jumper by Matt Terwilliger that made it 10-8 OSU.
"A coach's worst nightmare" had begun. And that is precisely what Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy called it.
The Rebels, finishing the season 24-11 and as the second-winningest team in UM men's basketball history, turned the ball over as if they were playing hot potato, losing the handle time and time again in the first half with 12 turnovers that led to multiple OSU points. Their 21 miscues for the game were five more than their season's average.
Ole Miss played better, played smarter, played with more courage, in the second half than the first. But it was too late. Way too late against a team as good as this Buckeye team, now 23-13 and headed to the NIT title game Thursday night against UMass, turned out to be.
The Minutemen had disposed of the Rebels' fellow SEC member Florida 78-66 in the other semifinal affair. Then came the Rebs and their opportunity to shine for all the world to see.
But the bigness of it all got to them, again according to Kennedy. They just weren't able to handle it.
"You come onto the big stage and you start a game that way. It was obviously insurmountable," he said after the Rebels scratched and clawed at least part of the way back after falling behind badly and quickly.
They trailed 44-20 at halftime and by as many as 27 before getting back in it. But still they didn't cut the OSU margin to single digits until Chris Warren, UM's leading scorer with 19 points, made a 3-point basket with less than three minutes to go to cut the Ohio State lead to 73-65.
After OSU pushed it back out to 10 it was another Warren trey that pulled the Rebels to within legitimate striking distance at 75-68 with just over a minute and a half left.
But they couldn't stop Ohio State from finishing the deal, and the Buckeyes simply called on their key players - Terwilliger, Jamar Butler, Evan Turner, David Lighty, and Kosta Koufos - to finish off Ole Miss.
The Rebels had outrebounded Virginia Tech 46-23 in an 81-72 road win last Wednesday night to get here. In this one, the Buckeyes took care of the boards 50-37. On the offensive glass it was 20-13 in favor of the Big Ten's entry.
"We were fortunate to be up as big as we were at halftime," said OSU Coach Thad Matta, "because we were not very good in the second half."
But obviously good enough after the Rebels' nightmare start.
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