On Feb. 25, Joe Lunardi projected Ole Miss as a 7-seed in the Big Dance. Fifteen days later, the Rebels' tournament hopes are on life support after an ugly -- though insanely thrilling -- 60-58 loss to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.
Despite an absolute miserable performance, the Rebs appeared to be in position for a 58-57 win after a miracle four-point play from Jarvis Summers with just 3.3 seconds left. But as South Carolina lobbed up a desperation heave just before the buzzer, Snoop White committed a boneheaded foul that sent Tyrone Johnson to the line for three free throws with 0.7 left. The Gamecocks struggled from the charity stripe all night -- several key misses down the stretch allowed Ole Miss to hang around -- but Johnson calmly drilled all three to send the Rebs packing after just one game in Nashville.
Ole Miss was awful throughout, but South Carolina's own ineptitude (the two teams combined for 34 turnovers and 30 percent shooting) kept things closer than they should have been. After going up 2-0 in the opening moments, the Rebs didn't retake the lead until six minutes remaining in the game. The lead changed five times from that point on.
It looked to be over after a free throw put the Gamecocks up by three with 11 seconds to go. But then Stefan Moody pulled off this brilliant feed to Summers, who drilled the three to tie it, then nailed the and-one for the lead.
But that was followed up by Snoop's idiotic foul.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
1. It ain't over yet.
Despite an epic crash and burn that saw Ole Miss lose four of its last five games, Lunardi still thinks the Rebels are among the last four in, according to the SEC Network telecast. But the Rebs rolled into Nashville as an 11-seed by the calculations of most bracketologists, so Lunardi's projection seems optimistic. Still, you don't become ESPN's go-to seeding expert by being wrong very often, so we'll just have to wait and see.
It's going to be a nervous three days until Selection Sunday.
2. The turnovers. Good lord, the turnovers.
The Rebs came in with the second fewest turnovers in the league, averaging just 11 per outing. They passed that with about five minutes left in the first half. Ole Miss coughed up the ball 21 times on the night, tying a season high. During a five-minute, 20-second span in the first half, they committed six turnovers and didn't score a single basket.
In fairness, South Carolina is a good defensive team -- third in the SEC in kenpom's defensive efficiency -- but most of the Rebels' mistakes were self-induced. At one point Summers randomly lobbed a half-court pass 10 feet out of bounds. I counted at least four times that Rebel ball handlers lost the dribble of their own accord. It was a clown show. It was baffling. It was if the the aliens from Space Jam stole their talent before tip-off ... except nobody had the Special Stuff.
3. The game plan was... um... yea.
I'm not gonna pretend like I know more about hoops strategy then a guy that gets paid $1.8 million a year to coach basketball. But I'll be damned if I know what Andy Kennedy's approach was. There was almost no ball movement -- the Rebs repeatedly lobbed pull-up jumpers from the perimeter early in the shot clock. Prior to the should-have-been-game-winning assist from Moody, Ole Miss' last three possessions -- each of which could have tied or taken the lead -- featured shots without a single pass.
When the Rebs finally made a run, it was because they started driving to the basket and getting to the foul line. They went over 10 minutes in the second half without a field goal, but made 10 of 11 from the charity stripe during that span to stay in the game.
Speaking of inefficient shooting and poor shot selection...
Marshall Henderson was shown on the video board. He did the Johnny Manziel money gesture.— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) March 13, 2015
Of course he did.
4. Stefan Moody went missing.
The biggest culprit of poor shooting was Moody, who, after a more or less silent first half, became a liability in the second. Look at his post-recess misses (he hit a runner in the lane and a three from the left elbow, in fairness):
That's a lot of damn misses and, in fact, of the Rebs' 20 no-goods in the second half, Moody accounted for nine of them. At what point -- after the fourth running lob in the lane? the fifth? -- does Andy Kennedy sit dude down and loudly advise against taking such shots? Yet, Moody's struggles ring indicative of the night's larger trend, in which Ole Miss generally rushed their shot-clocks for hasty and ugly jumpers that went nowhere. Snoop White went for a team-high 17 points and Jarvis added 15 of his own, sure, but without even an average shooting night from their main gunner, the Rebels really stood no chance.
5. Rebounding helped keep Ole Miss in this one.
Though the Rebs never controlled pace of play, and though they committed 21 turnovers leading to 19 Gamecock points, Ole Miss made the best that they could from Cocky's equally poor shooting night. Both teams shot 30 percent from the field, while the Rebels out-rebounded South Carolina, 44-33.
And yet. Despite grabbing 15 offensive boards to Cocky's 12, Ole Miss could only convert on five of those second chances. Dwight Coleby notched a pair of blocks, but South Carolina found the soft spots in Ole Miss' zone down low. Indeed, Michael Carrera straight torched the Rebels for 16 points, six boards and a trio of steals. Those are Stefan Moody numbers, y'all.