Running on Empty

TAMPA – They made 2009 interesting and gave everything they had. But what a 71-58 loss to Kentucky showed us was these young Rebels finally ran out of gas. Read about it inside.

It was a year of unforgettable adversity that ended in disappointing fashion. But when you get right down to it, these youthful Rebels were a resilient bunch.

A final record of 16-15 overall and 7-9 mark in conference play doesn't do this team justice.

While the season ended with a 71-58 loss to Kentucky, Ole Miss was done proud in 2009, simply because these guys battled to the very end.

"I told our guys in the locker room how proud I was of them," said Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy. "With what they've had to go through, they've continued to fight and never gave in."

Many will be disappointed (as well they should) in Ole Miss losing four of its last five games. It wasn't pretty down the stretch, as the Rebels were hoping a strong finish would catapult them into postseason play.

While they will likely be invited to the College Basketball Invitational, the season didn't end the way they wanted. The Rebels were seeking an NIT bid, but needed a few wins in Tampa to get it done.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

"It was a disappointing second half for us," Kennedy said of his team's loss to Kentucky Thursday. "I thought Kentucky was quicker to the ball than us. We refer to effort areas in every game and they dominated in those areas. They really hurt us on the offensive glass and we had too many turnovers. We let the game get away from us."

The important thing, however, is they didn't let the season get away when all seemed lost.

Injuries occur in college basketball, but usually not to the extent Ole Miss experienced this year. After losing Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins to ACL injuries, the prospects of postseason were pretty bleak. Add Chris Warren to the walking wounded with an ACL tear of his own, and most of us were ready to throw in the towel.

But from the depths of obscurity rose new faces that will help carry Ole Miss for years to come.

SEC Freshman of the Year Terrico White is certainly one to watch in the future, as he virtually put the team on his back in many conference contests. The diaper dandy added nine 20-plus games to his resume, while averaging 18.4 points per game in league play.

He was the team's leading scorer in 11 of the last 12 games, and ranked third among all freshmen in the nation with a 20.7 scoring average in games played since January 27th.

"When Chris went down, the question was ‘Can we win another game?‘ I didn't know, because we didn't have anybody that was in position to take over as the leader of our team," said Kennedy. "Terrico evolved into that guy."

Of course there's also Murphy Holloway, who notched five double-doubles in the Rebels' last eight games. He also led the team in rebounding average, with a 6.7 clip ranking 13th in the SEC.

"He could be a tremendous player," Kennedy said. "He has all the physical tools. He's 6-7, with great length, and is a big, broad-shouldered guy. When he gets a full summer of weight training and the time to really make some physical growth, the sky's the limit. He has a great skill-set."

Next year appears promising for Ole Miss, as all but non-scholarship seniors Ryan Brown and Patrick Spach return.

Polynice and Gaskins both earned medical redshirts, but Warren missed his by one game. Regardless, having all three back in the fold will bode well with a batch of youngsters who should be well-seasoned come November.

"No one likes to lose, certainly, but they gave the maximum each and every night. They had to for us to have a chance to win," Kennedy said. "Many of them grew up throughout the course of the season, which will bode well to the future of our program."

And the future starts now.

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