Put up a damn billboard, because a championship was won last night in the Tad Pad, as the Ole Miss Rebels defeated the Mississippi State Fightin' Renardos, 75-68.
It was a much needed win for this Rebel basketball program during this already tumultuous season, just as it was a much needed win for a fan base pining for athletics success. The Rebels convincingly controlled and defeated the #15-ranked arch rival Bulldogs in front of a raucous, confident crowd. Reginald Buckner showed up to play, having a few posterizing dunks and a monster, Sportscenter Top-10 Play block on his way to scoring 19 points and reeling in 15 rebounds. Three other Rebels - Terrance Henry, Nick Williams, and Jarvis Summers - also scored in double figures. Still, this was all Buckner's game, as he went over, around, and through his opponents for points and rebounds with an energy we've yet to see in the junior's career.
It wasn't a flawless game, as the Rebels were below-average from beyond the arc and downright awful at the charity stripe, but it was a thrilling and convincing victory nonetheless.
Mississippi State fought hard, especially Dee Bost, Arnett Moultrie, and Renardo "DONUTS" Sidney. DONUTS led the Bulldogs with 17 points and had an impressive 8 defensive rebounds. Bost had 15 points and Moultrie had 10. Moultrie also had a double-double of his own, adding 12 rebounds to his line on the box score. Still, the collective efforts of the Starkvillian visitors wasn't enough to overcome an Ole Miss lead that lasted from the 8:30 mark in the first half until the final buzzer.
To those of you who were there, you've earned a tip of the hat from this bloggeur. The energy of the Tad Pad, even through the grainy-ish ESPN3 feed, was thick and palpable. The student section was vicious, coordinated, lively, and prone to volcanic bursts of cacophony. The players, on both sides, were clearly impacted by the home court advantage created by the crowd - the Bulldogs seemed nervous and uncomfortable (Dee Bost aside), while the Rebels seemed lively and confident. Home court advantate is a real and important thing in college basketball, and you all helped maintain that. Well done.
This game does not itself save this basketball season. The Rebels are still likely NIT bound barring some sort of miraculous SEC Tournament win, and Andy Kennedy's job is still skating on perilously thin ice. The Rebs will win a few more games at the Tad Pad, lose a few more on the road, and still be a source of frustration for those of us who closely follow them. But none of that matters right now, and it certainly didn't matter at all last night. For a few hours, Ole Miss athletics was exciting again. It was exciting in a way that we haven't really felt in any sport since 2009. For a fan base suffering through the worst years of recent Ole Miss Rebel sports history, a victory over a nationally ranked rival team in front of a sellout crowd was exactly what was needed to remind ourselves exactly why it is that we made ourselves endure 2010 and 2011.
Andy Kennedy, Reginald Buckner, and the rest of you basketballers, thanks for making Ole Miss sports fun again, even if for a short little while.
Now, on to some housekeeping manners... What exactly should we make the billboard celebrating our newfound Mississippi basketball "championship" look like?