When Ole Miss took the floor Wednesday for what was easily one of their biggest games of the season, I'm sure there was a mixture of emotions and plenty of anxiety.
I'm also willing to bet the Rebels realized their season was very much on the line.
Having those types of nerves are understandable, when you consider the magnitude of such a game. Many have speculated (I, for one) of what a win over Tennessee would do for Ole Miss' postseason push.
Claiming victory could spark a fantastic finish, especially when the team they're facing is one of the better squads in the Southeastern Conference.
But following tipoff, those feelings subsided. The anticipation was over, with the task of playing sound, fundamental basketball the test.
Let's just say, Ole Miss passed with flying colors.
"We had a good extra effort, said Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy. "I thought a couple of times in the second half when we got a little separation, they made a run, we missed some shots, but we had a lot of big, offensive rebounds. We were plus-14 on the glass, and that gives you more opportunities. We got the possessions we needed.
"The same shots that we missed [at LSU], we made 53 percent tonight in the second half. I can't remember the last time we shot 50 percent in a half. When we make half of our shots, we're pretty good."
After a strong first half gave the Rebels a 34-32 lead at halftime, all involved could sense an aura of confidence starting to build. It only carried over in the second, as Ole Miss (14-11, 5-6) used a 7-0 run to push ahead 41-32 and take control.
The good guys led by as much as 18 in the contest and never really seemed threatened.
Those youngsters we've talked about played like veterans most of the night, with guys like Murphy Holloway, Terrico White and DeAundre Cranston playing some of their best basketball of the season.
"When you're at home, you play a little more confidently," Kennedy said.
True, but what we witnessed Wednesday wasn't your everyday blowout. Rarely do teams defeat an opponent so handily after dropping two straight.
How would the Rebels bounce back from a devastating loss in Baton Rouge? Would Terrico respond after a tough second half against the Tigers? Was David Huertas truly 100 percent?
You would think I had learned something about this squad. I've used the adversity angle far too often this season because, in actuality, these guys are immune to it.
"(The loss is) a little disappointing for us," said UT head coach Bruce Pearl. "Ole Miss played very well, especially their freshmen (Murphy) Holloway and (Terrico) White. They were terrific.
"We really struggled throughout with our intensity. Second chance points hurt us again and the 50-50 balls, Ole Miss chased too many of them down.I don't think we showed poise. We let ourselves get rattled which at this point in the season, there is no excuse for it."
Ole Miss rattled Tennessee (16-9, 7-4). Think about that for a moment. A Volunteer team, who strives under pressure, couldn't handle a relentless Rebel bunch.
Ironic isn't it?
These past few weeks have been a rebirth of sorts for Kennedy and Co. Many left this group for dead a mere month ago, but now they control their own destiny.
Many predicted Tennessee to be front-runners for the SEC crown, but they have still yet to distance themselves from the others in their own division.
We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves, but if the Rebels happen to beat Georgia Saturday, they might be onto something special to end the 2009 regular season.
A November to Remember? I want a repeat in February, and beating the Vols has only heightened those expectations.
"We're just trying to keep getting better," Kennedy said. "I don't know what is left in these guys. I know we had a good performance tonight against a quality team, but I still think we have a lot of areas that we can improve.
"We left a lot of plays on the floor, so that tells me that this team can still improve. If we do, then hopefully, we can get some more [wins]."
If they bring the same effort and intensity as Wednesday, they certainly will.
Before UT, there were six games left in the regular season. One win down, five more to go.
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