The Rebels' NCAA Tournament hopes were seemingly dashed at Auburn Wednesday, but with three games left in the regular season, they still have much to play for.
An NIT berth is still up for the taking, as Ole Miss stands 15-12 and 6-7 in SEC action. They boast the nation's No. 21 strength of schedule, having won five of their last eight games.
And there's still a lot of basketball left to be played.
"There's plenty of time to figure out what the next step is," said Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy. "I want these guys to try the best they can to live in the moment. It's a little different. Usually, as a coach, you have a rallying cry for the seniors. Outside of a couple of our walk-ons, these guys will be back (next season).
"I want to make sure they live in the moment and stay on the focus we started a couple of months ago. Let's try to continue to improve. If we do, these last few games can still have some significance."
Ranking fourth in the SEC West, the Rebels have some ground to make up if they're to get back on the radar for postseason play.
Alabama is up first, with a trip to Fayetteville on Wednesday, before Mississippi State comes to Oxford to conclude the regular season. As Kennedy stated, winning them all is certainly the desired goal.
But continuing to get better is of equal importance.
"We need to put two halves together," said sophomore Zach Graham of what area the team needs to improve in down the stretch. "Sometimes we come out and have a good first half and then don't have a good second half. Then sometimes we come out and don't have a good first half and then have a good second half. We just need to put two halves together."
No game better exemplifies that point than Ole Miss' loss on the Plains.
Holding a 40-36 advantage at halftime, the Tigers used an 11-0 run in the second to distance themselves from their opponents. The early run appeared to take a toll on Ole Miss, as they converted only one shot attempt in over 11 minutes.
A season-high 23 turnovers didn't help either, as Auburn capitalized with 19 points on the other end.
"If we keep improving the results will take care of themselves," Kennedy said. "When I break (last night's game) down in retrospect, I look in three different areas. Physically, did we bring the right approach? Meaning, were we physical? Did we play with a lot of energy? Yes. Mentally, were we locked in to where we were supposed to be? Yeah, but we had some breakdowns. I was ok with that. We showed some inconsistencies, but again, that's a part of our process with what we're dealing with.
"It was our lack of execution. We had 23 turnovers, which is a season-high and the most we've had since we've been here in our three year tenure. And the ability to make the same shots late was difficult. We missed the same shots we were making early, with the same guys shooting. So we failed ourselves in execution."
With a nightmarish game behind them, the Rebels now turn to Alabama, who claimed a three-point win over Ole Miss at home in the teams' last meeting.
The Crimson Tide hold an identical overall record as Ole Miss, but are 5-8 in league play with two consecutive wins over Mississippi State and Arkansas.
"Honestly, I try to move on," Kennedy said of the close loss in Tuscaloosa. "I don't have the luxury of living in the woulda, coulda, shoulda world. We can all point and counterpoint ourselves to death. It was an opportunity for us, in reviewing the tape, we had a chance. We match up pretty well with them. They're a different team now, as are we."
As the end to a trying regular season draws near, the Rebels remain focused on improving in each and every contest.
A young squad, with no seniors, has emerged as realistic players for the postseason, but is fighting for their lives down the final stretch.
"We're a better team now, because I think we know you have to put two halves together," said sophomore Malcolm White. "We are young, but we are learning what it takes to win in the SEC."
Down but Not Out
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