These Rebels have some fight left after all.
All appeared lost Wednesday night inside Tad Smith Coliseum. Ole Miss, on a 1-5 losing skid, trailed by 12 points at halftime to Auburn. Tay Waller had 18 points in the first half and was virtually unstoppable from the 3-point line.
Ole Miss was sluggish. The Rebels couldn't field any semblance of rhythm as the Tigers poured in the points and maintained a double-digit lead for the better part of 30 minutes.
The air was let out of the gym with 11:07 left in regulation. Ole Miss faced its largest deficit, 56-42. A comeback win was nowhere in sight.
"The turnover bug killed us in the first half," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "But not only that, we shot it pathetically. We looked tentative. We needed something good to happen."
Cue something good.
Zach Graham made a layup to spark a 43-19 second-half run to win it.
In front of an announced crowd of 5,608, and with NCAA Tournament hopes seemingly on life support, Ole Miss topped Auburn 85-75. The Rebels scored 63 points in the second half, the most in any half this season.
With the win, Ole Miss is now 18-9 overall and 6-7 in SEC play. The Rebels are in sole possession of third place in the SEC West.
"We showed some tremendous resiliency for a team who hasn't had much success the last few weeks," Kennedy, who was handed his 100th career win, said. "We certainly didn't come out of the gates on fire. We knew it was going to be a challenge. It was a gutsy win."
Guards Chris Warren and Terrico White came alive in the effort. The pair combined for 47 points, while Warren added 23 in the second half. Murphy Holloway grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds and also finished with 15 points.
Even better, freshman Reginald Buckner played his best game since succumbing to an ankle injury against these same Tigers in late January. He broke the Ole Miss freshman block record with three swats. Buckner has 47 on the season, which passes Sean Murphy.
"We needed this, man," Holloway said. "We're not out of the (NCAA Tournament) conversation yet, but we need to win them all. If not, we've got to do a lot of work in the (SEC) tournament. For now, we're going to take it game by game."
Ole Miss scored first and led 2-0. It was the last lead the Rebels would see until the 4:23 mark in the second half.
Waller, meanwhile, put on a show. The Auburn point guard, who missed six games early in the season, opened the game 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Tigers led 19-8 with 11:57 to play, and maintained their advantage for a 34-22 score at halftime.
It was more of the same early in the second half. Ole Miss seldom came within striking distance of Auburn.
However, after the Graham make, the Rebels rolled. Shortly after, Graham was good from long distance. White and Warren poured in four more. Ole Miss trailed by only four, 58-54, with 7:17 to play.
Down 65-60, White took over. He scored on a layup, plus the free throw, to cut the score to 65-63. After a stop on the defensive end, last season's SEC Freshman of the Year hit a 3-pointer for the lead at 66-65.
"Tonight, I was feeling it," White said. "I just kept going. We came out sluggish. What woke us up (from the slow start) was a sense of urgency. We knew if we lost this game, our hopes for the tournament would be over. We had to pick it up and we did that."
Auburn took its final lead at 69-68 with just over three minutes to play. However, Warren, who finished 4-of-11 from 3-point range, made another to give the Rebels a 71-69 lead they would never relinquish.
"They got into a flow offensively and rebounding was the key. They really hurt us on the glass," said Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo, his team 13-15 (4-9) on the season.
The Rebels won the battle of the boards in a big way, 50-29.
Ole Miss shot 47 percent (26-57) from the floor for the game, compared to 36 percent (22-61) for Auburn.
The Rebels were 7-of-19 in 3-point attempts, and 26-of-37 from the free throw line. The Tigers, 13-of-30 from 3-point range, made 18-of-24 from the line, a drastic reversal from previous games.
Auburn was paced by Waller, who tied his career-high with 29 points.
Next up, Ole Miss trips to Tuscaloosa Saturday for a 1 p.m. tipoff with Alabama. Earlier this month, the Rebels used a 23-point second-half comeback to beat the Crimson Tide, 74-67.
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