The late, legendary Coach/Analyst Al McGuire used to say if a coach lost a 20-point lead in a game, he wasn't much of a coach.
Alabama's Anthony Grant, the Tide's first-year mentor, will have some explaining to do when he meets McGuire at the Pearly Gates one day long from now.
Grant's team, who hit 15-23 shots from the floor to gain a 40-20 halftime lead, and actually led by 23 at one point in the game, lost to the Rebels 74-67 before 7,605 stunned Ole Miss fans. The Tide got caught in a torrid second-half Rebel wake and left the court not knowing what had hit them.
In a comeback for the ages in a must-win situation, the Rebels finally decided to play ball after 20 minutes when the fans in attendance were wondering when the real Rebs were going to show up and replace the Sigma Nu intramural team that had represented Ole Miss in the first half.
Even Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy was embarrassed by the first-half showing. When he got to the podium to meet the press after the game, there were no TV microphones in front of him as is usually the case.
"After a half like that first half, they take the mics away," he quipped, but seriously.
The Rebs, now 17-6 overall and 5-4 in the SEC, looked doomed when the halftime buzzer went off.
But sparked by sophomore forward Terrance Henry, who scored a career-high 20 points on the night, the Rebels came back after the break with a new found energy and intensity level and slowly chipped away at what looked like a lost cause based on the first-half effort.
"I didn't see either one of those halves coming," said A.K. "We came out flat in the first half and Alabama played exceptionally well. We paid for every mistake we made, we got tentative, we got in foul trouble again and we got beat up inside again.
"We were settling for threes in the first half against their zone and our guys were 3-16 from long range. In the second half, we got dribble penetration against it, screened better and made some adjustments. When they went back to man, we were able to keep penetrating and dishing for buckets and then we hit a few outside shots that were big."
Henry was the catalyst, the spark, for the major comeback that, frankly, kept the Rebs' NCAA Tournament hopes burning. A loss would have reduced them to a flicker.
"This was Terrance's best game. He's had some big ones before, but in this one he was huge," said Kennedy. "We were still missing shots early in the second half, but he was cleaning them up on the offensive boards. We were down 20-10 on the boards in the first half and were up 23-9 on the glass in the second half. Eight of those belonged to Terrance.
"He gave us the spark we needed and then Dub (Chris Warren) hit two threes back-to-back and we got something going. We had to have this game and everyone on this team knew that. This was a huge win for us."
Henry finished the game 5-9 from the floor and 8-9 from the charity stripe, but more importantly he played like a man possessed while his team battled back.
"We couldn't let someone come into our house and take what we've got," said Henry postgame. "We have more pride than that. We played very poorly in the first half and did some serious talking at halftime. Everyone geared it up and fought hard the entire second half."
If you're looking for much of a first-half recap, trust us, it's not worth the effort.
The Rebels got down 17-7 at the 12-minute mark and things just seemed to get worse and worse, culminating in the 40-20 halftime deficit.
"I wish I could say there was something I said at halftime that turned things around, but to be honest I saw doubt in the first half and that's a bad thing for a coach to see," Kennedy noted.
By the 12-minute mark of the second stanza, with Henry leading the way on both ends of the court, the Rebels reduced the margin to 10 at 49-39 Bama.
"We started extending our defense out more and putting more pressure on Alabama," Kennedy said. "We got them out of their rhythm. The second half was the best half of defense we have played this year."
With 6:26 to go in the game, the Rebs had achieved the unthinkable. Two free throws by Eniel Polynice tied the score at 56-all and from there the Rebs had come too far to let this one slip away.
"The crowd, which I appreciated very much, really got into the game and propelled us to the finish," said Kennedy. "The energy in the building lifted us up. We got in the double bonus early in the second half and that led to 33 free throws of which we were able to knock down 25. That all relates to us taking it to them with penetration and getting fouled underneath."
Terrico White's put back after a miss gave the Rebs their first lead at 58-56 and there was no looking back after that.
Ole Miss kept the game at a two or three possession contest the rest of the way.
"We have come back before, maybe not this dramatic, but we've got that quality in us," said Kennedy. "It's just a matter of making plays and having a sense of urgency on the defensive end by challenging shots at the rim."
Beyond Henry's 20/8 night, Warren led the team with 21 points after only netting 3 points in the first 20 minutes. They were the only Rebs in double figures but Murphy Hollway added seven big boards to the Rebs' total of 33. Bama had 29 caroms.
JaMychal Green led Bama with 18 points followed by Tony Mitchell with 16 and Mikhail Torrance with 12.
Ole Miss ended the night shooting 41.5% from the floor despite making only 7-28 shots in the first half. Ole Miss was 22-53 overall, 15-25 in the second half alone. The Rebs were 25-33 (75.8%) from the line.
Alabama (13-10, 3-6) ended up hitting half their shots (24-48) and 16-20 (65%) of their free tosses.
Once again, freshman Center Reggie Buckner was sidelined with his high ankle sprain. Kennedy did not know when he would return, but he's hoping he will be in uniform when the Rebs travel to Starkville next Thursday night.
"High ankle sprains are funny. We thought he might be able to dress out today but the ankle swelled on him again yesterday," Kennedy closed.
Meanwhile, the Rebs will bask in the flow of one of the most remarkable comebacks in these parts in a long, long, long time.
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