Ole Miss is still going dancing, but it’ll limp its way onto the floor. The Rebels blew a 16-point second-half lead against Alabama on Thursday night, bowing out of the SEC Tourney with a 62-57 defeat. They’ll head to the NCAA Tournament losers of four of their last five games.
Freshman Blake Hinson gave the Rebels a 40-24 lead when he buried a jumper 18 seconds into the second half, but the scoring all but dried up from there. Ole Miss managed just three points over the next seven minutes of game time as the Tide, which looked buried at halftime, roared into the lead with a 20-3 run.
It wasn’t until eight minutes left in the game that star senior Terence Davis scored his first and only points of the night, hitting a three-ball to put Ole Miss back in front, 51-48. The Rebels clung to the lead as the clock ticked into the final two minutes, but seven straight points swung it to Bama. The Rebels didn’t score once in the final 3:21.
For as much as this team has overachieved in its first year under Kermit Davis, its lack of size and depth is still exposed when its star guards aren’t knocking down shots. Terence Davis hit just one of his 11 field goals on the night. Breein Tyree went 3-for-16 from the field and 1-for-8 from behind the arc. Devontae Shuler, who started red hot with a 5-for-6 first half, hit just one of his seven field goals after the break. In total, the Rebels’ top three scorers combined to go 3-for-19 in the second half.
“I played the worst game of my career,” a frustrated Tyree told the Clarion-Ledger after the game. “I let my team down. That’s a team game but I’ve got to do better. Period. I just quit on possessions. Easy layups. Uncontested. I dug my team too far in the hole and we couldn’t get out.”
Bama didn’t shoot much better but got plenty of second-chance opportunities. They pulled down 17 offensive boards to Ole Miss’ six, out-rebounding the undersized Rebs by a whopping 20. As the Rebels remained content to lift midrange and perimeter jump shots, Bama banged away inside, finishing with an 18 free throw attempts to the Rebels’ four.
“We settled,” Kermit Davis said. “We weren’t physical drivers. We didn’t throw it to the post. But when you don’t have a lot of physical post presence, you’re not going to get as many fouls as a team like Alabama. They’ve got bigger guards who drive it and a lot of times they went to the free-throw line because they offensive rebounded.”
“I feel like I only took jump shots,” Terence Davis added. “I didn’t try to get to the paint. I didn’t try to take it to the rim. I just settled for jump shots. That’s why we only had four free throws.”
It was a critical win for the Tide, which came into the game ranked among Joe Lunardi’s first four out. The loss doesn’t change much math for Ole Miss, which moved from an eight to a nine seed in Lunardi’s latest bracket (eights and nines play each other, meaning there’s no tangible difference between the two). A win over Bama wouldn’t have changed much either, but it would have given Ole Miss a shot at Kentucky on Friday. A win over the Cats, which the Rebels came close to beating last week in Oxford, would have moved the Rebels up to at least a seven seed.
Ole Miss now heads home from Nashville to await the final bracket announcement on Sunday. If you’re looking for a silver lining in the early departure, its that Davis, Tyree and Shuler hopefully got a bad shooting night out of the way. The Rebels will need them hitting shots if they have any hope of making noise in the Dance.