BLOG: NEW ORLEANS — Ole Miss’ grind-it-out style of winning games has never looked so good. Needing a win to keep their goal of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 alive, the Rebels knocked off Tennessee 77-72 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Friday night.Ole Miss improved to 20-12 overall with the victory, one coach Andy Kennedy said he was very proud of because of the way his team fought and competed in a game that was extended into overtime due to a miraculous 3-point shot by Tennessee guard Skylar McBee with 2.5 seconds left in regulation.
McBee’s trey tied the game at 61 and gave the Volunteers (18-14) new life and momentum to close out the game. But the Rebels never let the made shot bother them as they finished strong in the overtime session to post the victory. Ole Miss, who will take on Vanderbilt in the second semifinal game at the New Orleans Arena Saturday afternoon, outscored the Volunteers 16-11 in overtime to wrap up its fifth straight win.
“I’ve been the head coach at Ole Miss for six years, and I was trying to do the math in my head. We won 125 and we have lost 76, so 201. That’s my 201st game coaching this team. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a group to fight through the adversities of a season, to fight through the adversities of a game, a game of that magnitude against a very good Tennessee team that plays extremely physical, extremely hard,” Kennedy said. “When McBee banked in that shot, and I think they banked in two or three over the course of the night, and when he banked that one in, we’re thinking, ‘Are you kidding me? This is not supposed to happen.’ We were all a little shocked. And then to respond by going 5-for-7 in the overtime, to jump right back and take complete command, to make foul shots down the stretch, to come up with timely defensive rebounds, tremendous effort from my kids.”
Ole Miss has started to embrace the grind-out method of winning Kennedy has tried to instill throughout the year and the team’s grit showed at the most critical stages of a game that was extremely important for both teams. Terrance Henry led four Rebels in double figures with 19 points, while Jarvis Summers shined as a ball handler and scorer as he finished with 17 for the Rebels.
Henry, who made two critical free throws with 11 seconds left in the game, said he was ready to do his part for the team in order to win.
“I just wanted to step up and make the free throws. I’m the senior leader on the team, and coach wants the ball in my hands in the last two minutes of the game in the close game, and I just did what I was supposed to do,” said Henry, who was limited to just six points in the Rebels’ opening-round win over Auburn on Thursday.
The victory was especially important for the Rebels as they try and pad their resume to make the NCAAs. Ole Miss has gone from a team that appeared to be headed to the NIT just a few short weeks ago to a team that could land an at-large bid with a win over the Commodores Saturday.
“Two months ago, we probably would have laid down or something,” Henry said about what the McBee shot would have done to the team’s psyche. “But at this point in the season when our back’s against the wall and we see our season slipping away, we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Kennedy said he didn’t want to politic for his team to make the NCAA Tournament, but he did feel good about the way his Rebels have finished the year, including winning two games in the SEC Tournament for the first time as Ole Miss’ coach.
“I think if you look at this team, this team’s now won 10 games against Southeastern Conference competition, the fourth rated RPI team in the league. This team just beat a Tennessee team that with Jarnell Stokes swept the (Florida) Gators who will be a top four or five seed; beat Vanderbilt, who will be a top four or five seed; beat UCONN, who is certainly in the tournament. And for us to do that, under those circumstances, beat a very good Alabama team to, I think, collectively, we have got some good things going for us,” Kennedy said.
Trae Golden ended up leading Tennessee with 21 points, while McBee and Cameron Tatum each scored 15 in the loss for the Volunteers, who appear headed to the NIT. Murphy Holloway finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Rebels, while Reginald Buckner scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
For more on the Rebels matchup with the Commodores, see Saturday’s live blog post and roundup of the game. (March 10, 2012)