COLUMN: KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s never easy to talk about a loss following a magical run like the Ole Miss Rebels just went on, but there is hope that the future can be bright. Ole Miss’ goal of making the Sweet 16 for just the second time in school history fell through thanks to a heartbreaking 76-74 loss to La Salle in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The Rebels, who matched their career high for wins in a season with 27, couldn’t make the plays at the defensive end to garner the win and they couldn’t routinely make enough free throws or 3-pointers during the course of the game that would have allowed them to keep the game from coming down to one possession.
In the end, the Rebels still accomplished a lot, a whole lot considering that 23 days ago, nobody, except maybe the players on the team, expected they could make it this far. In the end, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy recognized that fact and thought his group, a team that won three straight games in the SEC Tournament and beat Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, was able to achieve some very positive and lasting memories.
“I always want the guys to maximize their opportunities. Sometimes they don’t understand that when they’re this age, but there is so much presented to them through college athletics at a place like Ole Miss and I want to make sure they maximize that,” Kennedy said. “I think this team did well in battling back from some adversities and disappointing losses that put them in a difficult position at the end of the year.”
Senior Nick Williams talked about the successful season and the bright future he sees with players like Marshall Henderson returning.
“We knew we had the ingredients to go far, we just had to put it together and we did it over the last few weeks. We had a great run. This is a great bunch of guys. We played together when nobody else believed in us. It’s been fun, it’s been a great year and we’re going to go down as one of the best teams in the history of the school,” Williams said in the locker room as the team packed up to leave the Sprint Center. “They have a bright future. Jarvis (Summers), I think, is going to make that next step. Marshall is probably going to lead the SEC in scoring next year. And Snoop (LaDarius White) is great and they’ve got a great bunch of young guys. I think they can make a run next year. It’s just about chemistry and guys getting together.”
White will be one of the returning players in 2014. He thinks the Rebels can make another great run, if everybody bonds like this team did.
“We’re going to be really good next year I think. Next year I believe will be even better than this year,” White said. “I think as long as guys take upon their roles and work hard this summer, I believe we’ll be just as good as next year.”
It may be hard for Ole Miss fans to think about the future after a loss like Sunday’s, but it appears this program is ready to take the steps necessary to be in a position like they experienced.