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Rebels finish season strong, come up short in first round of NIT

Austin McAfee/File Photo

 

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team saw their season come to an end this past Wednesday with a 96-93 overtime loss to Illinois State in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. The Rebels finished the season with a 20-13 record and an 8-8-league record. 

While the season ended on the Rebels’ home court in the NIT, Ole Miss nearly played its way into the NCAA Tournament thanks to a hot streak at the end of the season that continued into the SEC Tournament. After losing six of eight games from Jan. 26 to Feb. 22, the Rebels circled the wagons and won five straight, including their first two games in the SEC Tournament. After junior Nick Williams scored a career-high 22 points in a 68-54 win against Auburn in the first round, Ole Miss advanced to the second round to play No. 2 seed Tennessee, which received a first-round bye.

A 13-point loss at Tennessee had been Ole Miss’ last loss before the five-game winning streak. Entering the game, Tennessee was projected as one of the last teams in or out, depending on the publication. A win against the Rebels would likely all but wrap an NCAA Tournament at-large bid for the Volunteers. But Ole Miss played spoiler behind 19 points from senior Terrance Henry and 17 points from Jarvis Summers in a 77-72 overtime win to advance to the semifinals against No. 3 seed Vanderbilt.

In February, Vanderbilt was another team Ole Miss had faced during their rough patch and the Rebels were blown out 102-76 on their home court at the Tad Smith Coliseum. Ole Miss went into the game looking for a revenge, with a win likely putting the Rebels on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble as well as a berth in the SEC Championship game.

Ole Miss trailed by just points at halftime, but was unable to overcome John Jenkins, who led Vanderbilt with 23 points, as the Commodores pulled away late in a 65-53 win. Vanderbilt would go on to beat top-ranked and No. 1 seed Kentucky the next day to win the SEC Championship.

When the 68-team NCAA Tournament field was revealed on Selection Sunday, Ole Miss was among the teams on the outside looking in as their name was not called, and they were selected to the NIT Field of 32 as a No. 2 seed.

The Rebels drew No. 7 seed Illinois State, which fell 83-79 in overtime in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game. The Redbirds came into Oxford and shot lights out in a 96-93 overtime win to end the Rebels’ season.

Illinois State set a Tad Smith Coliseum record for 3-pointers made by any team, knocking down 17 of 23 (73.9 percent) from behind the arc. Four Redbird finished in double figures, led by guards Tyler Brown and Nic Moore. Brown led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-10 shooting, including 8-of-9 from 3-point range, followed by Moore with 24 on 7-of-9 shooting and a perfect 6-of-6 from behind the arc.

Four player finished in double figures for Ole Miss. Henry scored 21 points in his last game as a Rebel, Summers and junior Murphy Holloway added 16 and freshman LaDarius White scored a team-high 25 points off the bench on 10-of-12 shooting and a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range.

The Rebels sent the game into overtime on back-to-back 3-pointers from Summers and junior Nick Williams. In the closing seconds of regulation, Summers missed a 10-foot jumper that would have won the game, and in the closing seconds of overtime, Williams turned the ball over with the chance to tie or win.

The Rebels’ 93 points were the most points they scored all season, only the fourth time they eclipsed the 80-point mark and the first time since an 86-82 loss at Southern Miss on Dec. 17.