Memory Makers

Most, if not all, Ole Miss players hung around to shake hands with fans and pose for pictures. The Rebels had just beaten Memphis handily, 90-81, moments earlier.

In their eyes, there was no better time to relish the moment.

The win was a total team effort. Five Rebels finished in double-digits, led by another impressive performance by Terrico White, who had 21 points.

Around Tad Smith Coliseum, fans clad in red and blue shared in the euphoria, too. Celebratory music blared loudly from the speakers overhead. For a moment, one not often shared in 2009-10, Ole Miss basketball was made fun again.

"Certainly the emotion was in the building," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said afterwards. "We got some energy off the crowd."

Even with the ultimate disappointment felt after Ole Miss was passed over by the NCAA selection committee for the eighth-straight season, Kennedy has made a point in referring to making memories.

DeAundre Cranston, as the fourth-year head coach often makes known, is the lone senior on the roster. He's never been to New York, either.

But if Ole Miss (23-10) were to beat Texas Tech Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament, Cranston would get his trip to Madison Square Garden. And considering program apathy weeks prior, such a feat would be significant and a fitting send-off.

Ole Miss has won six of seven games and is playing its best basketball in quite some time – quite the accomplishment, considering this season's ups-and-downs.

The Rebels, after being forced to settle for the NIT, could have faded to anonymity. Instead, they bounced back and are on the cusp of making a once forgettable season memorable.

Granted, it may be too little too late, but basketball enthusiasm around Oxford has returned. And for all involved, it's a welcomed sight.

"We've won 6 of 7, but who's counting," Kennedy said. "Obviously we were disappointed (in not making the NCAAs). I've said it before, but we have no one to blame but ourselves. I would love to be able to go back and re-gather a couple of possessions. I'd love to have all those back, but we can't.

"What we got is an opportunity to continue to play. I have one senior. He's never been to New York. I'm trying to get him there."

The question becomes what these wins mean big picture.

Troy head coach Don Maestri compared Ole Miss' NIT prospects to that of Baylor, who reached the Sweet Sixteen following a 76-68 win over Old Dominion Saturday. It took the Bears 60 years to get an NCAA Tournament win, but only two days to get their second.

"(Ole Miss) is a talented team," Maestri said after an 84-65 loss. "If they keep their focus, hopefully I'd like to see them play well the next game and go a little further. This NIT may be a real positive for their team."

Memphis coach Josh Pastner shared similar sentiments.

"They have a really good basketball team," he said, "and they're going to be really good next year, too."

Ole Miss is expected to return a core featuring Warren, White and blossoming forward Murphy Holloway. Freshman Reginald Buckner will be a year older, as will Terrance Henry. All the pieces, at least on paper, appear in place.

A chief, missing component is the environment provided Friday. On par with Kennedy, Ole Miss and Memphis created a lasting memory, from the smiles of players to the paying patrons lining the sidebars.

But it shouldn't be the last.

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