When you open the Ole Miss basketball ledger (which is actually a Trapper Keeper with loose sheets of paper inside), it’s not until you turn over a few hundred pages that you find a record of the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. In fact, you’ll come across only nine seasons in which Ole Miss made the Dance.
Still, the program has managed to pack the full spectrum of human emotion into that small sample size. Wins and losses in the final seconds, flirtations with huge upsets, come-from-behind wins and blowout losses are all part of the 17 lifetimes Rebel fans have lived in 13 total tournament games.
With tournament game number 14 awaiting on Friday, let’s ride the emotional rollercoaster that is Ole Miss’ NCAA Tournament history.
After 42 years of juuuuuuust missing out*, Ole Miss broke through and earned its first ticket to the Dance with an SEC Tournament title (they’d finished sixth in the regular season). For their introduction into the tournament, Ole Miss was awarded a 10-seed and sent to Wichita, Kansas—essentially a home game for a blue blood opponent.
*The program’s best record from 1939 to 1981 was 15-8 in 1944-45.
Ole Miss trailed by as much as 12 before cutting the lead to one in the final seconds, but Kansas made two free throws with two seconds remaining to ice a 69-66 win (nice).
Hey, only 16 years later instead of 42! Progress!
In Rob Evans’ fifth year as coach, Ole Miss won the SEC West title and posted a 19-7 regular season record, good enough for an eight-seed in the tournament.
Ole Miss traveled to Kansas City (the Missouri side, but seriously, ENOUGH KANSAS) to face Temple, which was using a 2-3 matchup zone as its base defense under coach John Chaney. I don’t know why, but I remember Joezon Darby, Ole Miss guard and sixth man, telling media members something to the effect of he was going to come out with his guns shooting over that 2-3 zone. Ole Miss shot 36 percent from the floor and lost 62-40, which included a last-second shot to get to 40 points in as many minutes.
I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.
Heading into the ‘99 tournament, Ole Miss was 19-12 and labeled a nine-seed, facing Villanova, the eight-seed, in the first round in Milwaukee (HOORAY FOR NOT KANSAS). With just under two minutes to play, here was the game status:
As we all know, a six-point lead with just under two minutes to play is the most dangerous lead in college basketball. Because of that truth and Rod Barnes’ offensive mind, Ole Miss only scored one more point the rest of the way and had to endure this to survive.
Of course, if you were to draw up the way that Ole Miss would win its first ever NCAA Tournament game, that would be it.
The win sent Ole Miss to the second round to face one-seed Michigan State. The Rebels led the game 32-29 at halftime and took a 59-56 lead with just under five minutes remaining. Instead of pulling the upset, Ole Miss allowed a 13-0 run and dropped the game 74-66. ALAS.
My goodness, what a team. After losing in the SEC Tournament championship game, this Ole Miss club earned a three-seed, the program’s highest ever seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Ole Miss’ draw had them facing Iona, the 14-seed in—checks notes—KANSAS CITY WHAT IS THIS TRASH.
The entire game was an act of survival, but Ole Miss escaped with a 72-70 win. After the game, head coach Rod Barnes had this to say:
“To be honest, I feel I got outcoached, but our kids took care of it. We knew they were going to play zone. That wasn’t a surprise. But I just didn’t teach our guys and prepare them on what will happen and when to recognize if they’re in the matchup or the 3-2 zone. After the half we adjusted.”
Not teaching and preparing? You don’t say!
The second-round game was against sixth-seeded Notre Dame and its legions of citizen’s arrest fans. Jason Harrison drilled a three-pointer with 46 seconds left to give Ole Miss the lead and the eventual 59-56 win.
The second win in the same tournament meant Ole Miss was in the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. Awaiting them in San Antonio were the Arizona Wildcats, the two-seed.
I had the good fortune of being at this game, and when Ole Miss took an 18-6 lead with about 10 minutes to play in the first half, I would’ve been okay with being whisked away on a fiery chariot to heaven. I will never forget the Illinois and Kansas fans, whose teams played after our game, jumping on the bandwagon and wanting to see Arizona fans suffer.
Unfortunately, sports hate fun, and Ole Miss lost 66-56. However, we shall always have this moment when the joy was exponentially great. You weren’t sure if it was all a fever dream or you were having a stroke.
SIDE NOTE: That Arizona team had four guys play in the NBA. Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Loren Woods and Luke Walton. Oh, and they lost to Duke in the championship game. Justin Reed (RIP) was the only guy for Ole Miss who got a taste of the league.
As a nine-seed, Ole Miss lost its first-round game against UCLA, 80-58. This would’ve been a good time to sim to the end of Rod Barnes’ career at Ole Miss, unless you wanted to watch four more years of 55-63 (17-47 in the SEC).
After winning the SEC Tournament for the first time in 32 years, Ole Miss... (presses finger to ear)... just a second, we have an urgent message to relay to the people about winning a conference championship.
As I was saying, Ole Miss was the 12-seed and played fifth-seeded Wisconsin in the first round. You may recall a terribly boring game in KANSAS CITY BECAUSE SWEET MERCY IS THERE NOWHERE ELSE. Ole Miss held a team to 25 percent shooting for an entire game on its way to a 57-46 win.
All that was standing in the way of a second trip to the Sweet 16 was La Salle, the 13-seed. Please smother me with a pillow until the air leaves my lungs forever.
Who doesn’t enjoy some heated play-in game action in Dayton, Ohio? Trailing BYU by 17 at halftime, Ole Miss dropped 62 (SIXTY TWO) points in the final 20 minutes (THREE POINTS PER MINUTE) on the way to a 94-90 win.
The win in Dayton meant Ole Miss, the official 11-seed, moved into the main bracket and played Xavier in Jacksonville (DUVAAAAAAAAALLL; kisses fist, points to the sky for Blake Bortles).
It didn’t go well. Despite taking 17 more shots than Xavier, Ole Miss lost by 19. The basketball experts I talked to suggest not shooting 33 percent in tournament games next time around.
After four years, that next time is nearly upon us. Godspeed to us all on a Friday in which we abandon responsibilities and hope for something other than emotional devastation.