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Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament hopes are looking up after knocking off Auburn

Make it three in a row for the Rebels.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Early last week, Ole Miss’ once-strong NCAA Tourney hopes were sliding down the wrong side of the bubble. Losers of four straight, the Rebels seemed to be succumbing to their lack of size and depth. The red-hot start to Kermit Davis’ first season in Oxford had been plunged into an ice bath. Fans were looking to baseball season.

After knocking off Auburn on the road Wednesday night, though, Ole Miss has reeled off three straight Ws to put themselves back into the thick of the tournament conversation. Things were ugly at times against the Tigers—particularly down the stretch as Auburn repeatedly pulled itself within one possession—but the Rebels managed to hold on for a 60-55 win that puts them at 7-4 in the SEC with three and half weeks left in the regular season.

With Terrence Davis saddled with foul trouble and freshman Blake Hinson out with the flu, the Rebels leaned on their on defense on Wednesday. Kermit Davis countered Auburn’s three-point shooting by clamping down on the perimeter and slowing thing down on the offensive side of the floor, limiting the time Auburn had with the ball. The Tigers, who usually attempt over 30 threes per game, put up just 20 on Wednesday, making only five.

“We’re the fourth or fifth-leading scoring team in the SEC but when you play Auburn here, you gotta play different than you play at home,” Kermit Davis said in his postgame presser. “You have to take opportunities in the break but at half court you have got to limit possessions.”

Auburn shot under 33 percent from the field. Their two lowest scoring outputs of the season have both come against Ole Miss.

Ole Miss began this win streak by knocking off Texas A&M and Georgia last week—victories that didn’t add much to the resume considering those two team’s combined 4-18 conference record. But knocking off Auburn (on the road, no less) is something different entirely. The Tigers are 5-6 in SEC play but came into Wednesday’s game 20th in the NET rankings, the NCAA’s new version of the RPI. The win should carry Ole Miss inside the top 30 in NET and puts them at 4-7 against Group 1 opponents this season.

ESPN projections released before tip-off had the Rebels in the field of 68. A CBS bracket from earlier in the week put Ole Miss in as a nine-seed, while Sports Illustrated had them on the bubble.

Ole Miss has a good chance to keep the wins coming over the next week and half with home games against Mizzou (No. 88 NET) and Georgia (No. 127) sandwiched around a road trip to South Carolina (No. 100 NET). Then things get tough: Tennessee (No. 4 NET) and Kentucky (No. 6 NET) come to town in consecutive weeks.