One and Done

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Hopes for a bid to the NCAA Tournament may not be dashed, but the decision is now out of Ole Miss' hands.

Friday against 15th-ranked Tennessee followed the script of so many games this season.

The Rebels, seeded No. 2 in the SEC West, continually missed free throws. There were costly turnovers and players settling for jump shots.

Terrico White rarely went to the rim. Chris Warren, his 16 points a team-high, surrendered the ball nine times, with only three assists.

As the clock struck zero inside Bridgestone Arena, Ole Miss (21-10, 9-7 SEC) had dropped another winnable game it so desperately needed. This time, it was a 76-65 final in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament.

"Obviously, it's not a good position to be in," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said of the team's standing for NCAA Tournament selection. "I've got a locker room filled with a lot of disappointed guys. We'll have to wait and see."

The prospects of a wait-and-see approach are never promising, especially this late in a season. Suffice to say, the NCAA picture is awfully blurry come Sunday selection time.

"Man, I don't know where we stand," sophomore forward Murphy Holloway, who had four points and seven rebounds, said. "As far as in or out, we'll just wait till Sunday. I want to go, but it's a matter if (the selection committee) felt we did enough."

Today was, for all intents and purposes, a play-in game. Ole Miss held a meager 2-6 record against top-50 RPI teams. No. 3 seed Tennessee (25-7, 11-5) was yet another quality-win opportunity. The Rebels' postseason resume needed a shot in the arm.

Instead, it was possibly given its critical blow.

The Rebels jumped ahead early and led as the buzzer sounded for halftime. They had outplayed Tennessee and at least looked the part of a contender. Shots were falling. Confidence was high.

But in the second, they barely posed a threat. Ole Miss reverted back to mid-season form - sloppy and, noticeably, without rhythm.

The game was tied at 44 with 15:43 left, but Tennessee grabbed the upper hand and never trailed again.

"We're known for having a lead and giving it up," Warren said, his final basket coming with 11:43 to play. "We keep fighting. We'll keep fighting all the way. We could've won."

Tennessee struck first with a J.P. Prince 3-pointer in the game's opening seconds. However, Ole Miss quickly responded with a 10-2 run, including three-consecutive long distance makes by Warren.

Ole Miss led 13-10 with 14:48 showing in the period. Zach Graham extended the lead, though, with five points on consecutive offensive possessions. Tennessee finally retook the lead midway through the first half thanks, primarily, to Cameron Tatum.

Tatum, a 36 percent 3-point shooter for the season, made 4-of-4 in the half. His second of the game gave the Vols a 23-22 advantage. Not to be outdone, Graham answered with a trey of his own. The basket sparked a 9-3 run, and Ole Miss was back on top, 31-26.

The Rebels led 35-34 at intermission.

"I felt we were in a good spot," Graham, with 13 points in the first half, said. "I mean, we won the first half. We just needed to come out and win the second half by at least a point."

But they didn't.

Ole Miss' only fireworks came in its first made shot. Holloway threw down a dunk in the early stages of the half for a 37-34 lead.

It was a see-saw battle from there, but Tennessee eventually took control. The Volunteers were on top 46-44 on a bucket by Wayne Chism and added on with seven-straight points.

Of course, Ole Miss did its best to answer. Warren made back-to-back 3s. However, those makes followed four misses at the free throw line by Holloway and Reginald Buckner. Even Warren, easily the team's best free-throw shooter, was off. He was 1-of-4 in the loss.

All in all, Ole Miss was 12-of-25 from the charity stripe. Tennessee, meanwhile, was 26-of-37.

"The old nemesis, the free throw line, which has been an issue for us," Kennedy said postgame. "Typically a telltale sign is when the opponent makes more than you attempt, you're not going to like the outcome."

Ole Miss and Tennessee both shot 39 percent from the field, but the Volunteers held the edge in rebounding, 42-39. Ole Miss was 8-of-23 in 3-point attempts.

Along with Warren's 16 points and Graham's 15, Terrico White added 13 on 6-of-14 shooting. Tennessee was led by Prince, who had 17 points. Chism, after pouring in 26 points in the teams' first meeting in January, had 16 points and 15 rebounds.

"If you look at what he's been able to accomplish in his four years not only statistically but with the success the teams have had, he has to go down as one of the all-time best in the history of that program," Kennedy said of Chism.

Today's loss snapped a four-game win streak for Ole Miss.

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