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SEC Tournament 2017: Arkansas bounces Ole Miss in a thriller, 73-72

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The Rebels’ hopes for an NCAA Tournament invite died in Nashville on Friday night.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Ole Miss Rebels played to within an inch of their lives on Friday night, but in the end couldn’t hang against Arkansas. The Basketbears failed out of the SEC tournament quarterfinal round, 73-72, against one of the league’s best shooting teams.

Since the Rebels had gone through most of the season without much of a signature win or super impressive record, many fans had checked out before the SEC tournament even started. At best, the year was seen as an opportunity to develop some of the younger players, particularly Breein Tyree and Terence Davis, in preparation of better days to come for the program.

The team’s recent play, including an upset over South Carolina, gave viewers a brief glimmer of hope for an extended postseason, as Ole Miss finally beat Missouri in a way that reflected the actual gap between the two teams. After losing to them by 18 just a few weeks ago, the Rebels played Arkansas evenly Friday night, but didn’t take care of a few subtle aspects in a 73-72 loss.

Losses like these are never easy to digest in the moment, but in its proper context, it makes total sense.

Ole Miss didn’t get to the line very often, and it cost them.

The Rebels had gotten used to generating a ton of free throw opportunities, averaging 27 attempts from the charity stripe per game. This time, they made just eight of 14. Capitalizing on even these few chances better would have secured the win, but it’s hard to complain considering how often Ole Miss has benefited from free throws in recent history.

They weren’t efficient enough from the floor to make up for that avenue being cut off, shooting just 38 percent. Ball movement was nonexistent, as just 10 of 28 field goals were assisted, and iso ball will only take you so far. It didn’t help that Sebastian Saiz started the game 0 for 10 from the field, prompting a candid halftime interview from Andy Kennedy, even by his standards.

Arkansas took care of the little things.

The Hogs were shut down in the paint, but shot 41 percent from three, compared to just 37 percent overall. They also got to the line a good bit more than the Rebels, sinking 20 of 23 foul shots. But the most maddening part of all was their 22 points off turnovers, compared to the Rebels’ six.

Ole Miss coughed the ball up just three more times than the Razorbacks, but the bad guys did a better of job of converting those slip-ups into fast break opportunities. To their credit, the Rebels were better on the offensive glass, but it’ll be hard to forget Arkansas recovering their own miss, forcing Ole Miss to foul in the final seconds of the game.

The season may not be over.

Ole Miss probably isn’t in the NCAA Tournament this year, which is the norm, and thus shouldn’t trigger an angry wave of commenters, right? Basketball purgatory, otherwise known as the NIT, may be awaiting the Rebels. Judging by the few people who take the time to project the NIT, Ole Miss could be as high as a three-seed, so that’s something.

Saiz deserves a better send-off, and it would be neat to see Tyree and Davis do cool stuff on occasion. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing this team get together a few more times.