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Ole Miss falls to Bama on the road, 70-55

The Tide’s defense was suffocating down the stretch.

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

Ole Miss never trailed by an overwhelming deficit, but by the middle of the second half, a comeback felt too ambitious to hope for. The rallies against Auburn and LSU, as crazy as they felt at the time, came against mediocre teams that were capable of falling apart at any moment. Alabama, on the other hand, ranks 14th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive rating, and that onslaught was on display as the Tide felled Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa, 70-55.

The Rebel offense showed some life early on, making six of their 10 first shots. Despite facing a heavy press, often without their only pure point guard Breein Tyree, the offense was able to find quality looks under stress. Sebastian Saiz, after making an early three and bucket near the rim, began drawing a double team, which created some open shots for others. They led for more than 15 minutes of the action.

Once Bama got settled, that streak of offensive brilliance died down, as Ole Miss failed to convert a field goal in the final five minutes of the first half, going zero for eight. With 7:39 to play, the Rebels brought it to within five, triggering my dumb brain to hold out for hope. Avery Johnson’s team never really ceded control after that, only allowing six points the rest of the way, two of which were free throws by Cullen Neal in the final 20 seconds.

Given the Rebels’ track record against strong defensive teams, the outcome wasn’t a huge shock.

The offense’s reliance on free throws came back to haunt them.

Ole Miss had recently overcome poor shooting from the field against Mississippi State and Missouri by getting to the line consistently, combining for 61 points from the charity stripe over those two games. There’s no shame in that, provided you can do it consistently and offer up other ways to score when that doesn’t work.

Once Alabama forced the game into strictly half-court possessions, Andy Kennedy’s offense didn’t have an answer. This was the worst shooting performance since facing South Carolina on the road.

Once again, Ole Miss allowed players to overachieve.

Freshmen Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key accounted for more than half of Bama’s total offensive output, scoring 22 and 19 points, respectively. Before tonight, they had averaged 12 and 10 points per game. 41 points on 21 shots. That is all.

This season isn’t quite all for naught.

Now that the Rebels’ tournament hopes are probably dead, it may be a good idea to justify watching so many games of an ultimately underwhelming team. In the same way that the football team’s thrilling win over A&M was meant to do last fall, the 2017 basketball season served as a reason to be kinda excited about the program’s future.

We got to see Terence Davis and Breein Tyree explode at times, and it’s easy to look forward to seeing their more developed selves next year, combined with a new wave of recruits brought on by the Pavilion.