Alabama beat Ole Miss 76-73 Wednesday night. But it wasn't without a gallant effort on the road from a Rebel team trying to remain competitive game in and game out.
Its last three games have proven doing that is a challenge. Ole Miss beat Arkansas by nine points a week ago, fell to LSU by 32 Saturday, and came within a made basket near the end of this one for a victory.
But the Rebels were competitive again.
Given the youth this Ole Miss coaching staff is putting on the court, at times competitiveness may have to suffice – at least this season.
As you would expect, the Rebels weren't happy just to be competitive. They knew the victory was right there for the taking.
But there was a sense of more growing up from the youthful, inexperienced Rebels who get older and more experienced with each passing game.
Sometimes they'll finish. Sometimes they won't. Wednesday night they almost did but came up just short.
"We just had to make the plays at the end," said Terrico White, whose drive and layup bounced off the rim but was rebounded by teammate Murphy Holloway, who then missed a putback. And all this happened with under 10 seconds to go and would have put the Rebels up 75-74.
"I really should have dunked it," said Terrico, with 14 points, reflecting on the what-ifs afterward.
A more seasoned college player might have. Maybe next time Terrico will. And maybe Holloway's putback goes in next time.
On the previous trip downcourt for the Rebels with under half a minute remaining and down by a point, Zach Graham's drive and layup had rolled off and was rebounded by the Tide. Maybe next time it goes in.
There was frustration with the loss but little else.
"We had some good looks there at the end," said Andy Kennedy after his team fell to 10-8 overall and 1-3 in SEC play. "Terrico had a good look and Murphy had a good shot at the tip-in. We just left too many points on the table tonight."
David Huertas didn't, especially early. The junior guard was on fire the first five minutes and didn't miss from the field. He had 11 of the Rebels' first 14 points. He scored 20 in the first half.
The Rebels trailed 39-38 at halftime but led 50-46 early in the second half until Alabama scored six points off three consecutive UM turnovers to take a 52-50 lead.
Although the game was tied at 52-52 on a Holloway tip-in off a Huertas miss, Ole Miss never regained the lead.
Alabama limited Huertas' touches in the second half, and he only got six points the rest of the way, still finishing with a game-high 26.
"We came out with great energy, and that's what we have to do," Huertas said of the Rebels' early 14-6 advantage, just the opposite of the start they'd had vs. LSU four days earlier when they trailed 19-2 at home. "My teammates did a great job screening for me and finding me open. I got a lot of good looks the first half. Then in the second half, Alabama made some adjustments and made it tough to score."
At least for Huertas. But late in the contest there were plenty of others who had chances to score - and to win it.
"I'm really, really proud of my team," said Mark Gottfried after his Crimson Tide improved to 12-6 and 2-2. "Gutsy effort. Gutsy win."
Kennedy all but said the exact same thing, except for the last and obviously most important part.
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