Last night, the Rebels had an opportunity to defeat another top-15 ranked SEC team at home and place themselves in control of their own NCAA destiny. With Florida, a team known for its struggles on the road this year, coming into town, Ole Miss players, students, and fans were excited about this possibility, and that energy showed during the first 20 minutes of the contest. For a half, the Rebels were in command of the Gators, and simply looked like the better basketball team, as hard as that may be to believe.
The Rebels, for that first half, played harter and smarter. They made more difficult shots, grabbed more rebounds, did a better job of controlling the flow of the game, and generally played with more confidence and authority than Florida.
Then, the second half happened.
Even by Ole Miss standards, the second half collapse of the team was pretty stunning. Leading by ten points at the half, Ole Miss game out of the second half gate struggling. What Ole Miss was to Florida, in half one, was reversed in half two. Florida moved the ball well, made a bevy of huge three point shots, rebounded well, and firmly controlled the flow and tempo of those twenty minutes. The Rebels fought hard enough, not relenquishing the lead until about five minutes remained in the game, but once the contest reached the two-minute mark or so, we all knew it was all but over.
Missed dunks and layups, horrible three-point shot selection, missed free throws - it had all the makings of a classic meltdown. But, what this game most hinged on, was an absolute exposure of the Rebel defense by the Florida offense. Once that was broken, everything was lost. Had Ole Miss played as well defensively (or Florida played as confused offensively) in the second half as they did the first, the 10-point margin at half would have been nearly impossible for the Gators to overcome.
So, that's it. This team's NIT bound. Every year we seem to go through this. "Will this team be Andy Kennedy's first to make the NCAA Tournament," we ask at the beginning of every season, only to, at right around this juncture, wind up with a resounding "nope." T'was fun while it lasted, I guess.