Well, shit. Looking to avenge last month's loss to LSU in Oxford, an ice-cold Stefan Moody and the Rebels just couldn't scrape things together down the stretch on Saturday, and in so doing Ole Miss pulled a season first by bombing its second game in a row, 73-63.
Riding a 12-0 run mid-way through the first period, Ole Miss' offensive production sure seemed swell, but the wheels came quickly off the bus right before halftime. LSU cut a 26-15 Rebel lead to 27-23 as the first-half buzzer sounded and continued their roll after recess with a 9-0 run. The Tigers' Tim Quarterman dropped an 18-10-10 triple double on Andy Kennedy's squad, while 11 points from Sebastian Saiz and Moody's 15 just could not keep up. Ouch.
The Rebels still control their own destiny as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, but for a fan base used to watching Kennedy-led teams fall apart down the stretch, the consecutive losses are more than a tad concerning. What's been a surprisingly solid team over the last month has suddenly been plagued with the type of self-induced bullshit -- poor shot selection, defensive lapses, turnovers and even free throw struggles -- that leads to TV remotes beings smashed against walls.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday's slop-fest in the bayou:
1. Ole Miss played well in the paint, but only here and there.
Remarkably, the Rebs out-rebounded the Tigers, 44-35, but they also topped LSU in the fouls column, 24-16. Moody, M.J. Rhett and Dwight Coleby raked six boards a piece, while -- surprise of surprises -- Martavious Newby hauled down eight of his own. Ole Miss crashed the offensive glass to out-rebound LSU 15-10 in their own end, and they showed flashes of boxing-out brilliance defensively.
Still, the Tigers' Jarell Martin and Quarterman proved too berserker at the tape for the undersized Rebels, who saw themselves pushed and shoved for a 34-24 points-in-the-paint disadvantage.
2. When the Rebs' shooters go cold, they go cold.
Seriously, it's nigh-impossible to win games when the Rebels' point men turn silent for three- and four-minute stretches. Moreover, in the five-or-so minutes on either side of halftime, the Tigers outpaced the Rebels with a 16-8 run. Moody's looks were off all night, and though M.J. Rhett has been known to rock a decent stroke from 17 feet out, my dude turned bricklayer in the second half.
The Rebels' 3-point game was virtually non-existent. Snoop White played string music twice from out in the yard and Anthony Perez added one for good measure, but Moody went 1-of-7 from beyond the arc in a game that felt herky-jerky around the perimeter all afternoon.
The Rebels are 17-3 when they shoot better than 40 percent in a game, so it's little wonder that Saturday's 38 percent effort tanked them. And let's not forget that Ole Miss came into Baton Rouge with the second-best free-throw shooting game in the country at 78 percent, which feels a bit embarrassing after Saturday's frigid 62 percent showing. Moody at least nailed all eight of his attempts from the charity stripe, but Jarvis Summers clanged out five of his seven attempts. C'mon, Jarvis.
3. Ole Miss is now in a must-win scenario for Bama and Vandy.
Following Saturday's loss, the Rebels have slipped into a three-way tie with LSU and Georgia for fourth in the SEC. Should this knot persist into the SEC Tournament, LSU holds the advantage over both teams. Amazing: this time last week, AK and the boys were looking at a two-round bye in Nashville, but back-to-back losses render that happy memory wholly irrelevant.
To say nothing of the NCAA Tournament -- pending updated bracket projections on Sunday and Monday, Ole Miss could slip as far down as a shaky 10-seed after the week they've had. The "last 12 games eye test" isn't an official factor in Sunday Selectors' decisions anymore, but those in the know must surely feel queasy about placing the Rebels in the middle four seeds of a region at this point.
All of which is to say: the Rebs control their SEC and NCAA Tournament destinies, and Tuesday's bout at Roll Tide followed by the regular-season finale with Vandy are absolute must-wins, should Ole Miss want to go dancing.