I missed the first 5 minutes of the game because I had to take care of a work call before entering the gym. I understand we jumped out to an 8-0 lead, and we were still up 15-9 when I made my way down to my seat. Maybe I should have just stayed in the car.
Unfortunately, the trend of only playing one good half continued. We lost momentum in the closing minutes of the first half when we bricked some free throws, turned the ball over, and gave up a 3 pointer at the buzzer cutting our lead in half at 30-27. In the second half, once Jimmie Taylor went out of the game with 3 fouls Ole Miss went on a 17-3 run (before we called a timeout, I might add) to take a 9 point lead. The key series of events came with around 9 minutes left, and Ole Miss leading by 3. The Rebels missed a 3, but Kessens failed to block out and Ole Miss got the rebound, making good on their next 3 point attempt. In fairness, Jimmie Taylor was at the scorer's table waiting to check in at that point. Rather than calling a timeout, Cooper turned the ball over leading to another wide open 3, giving the Rebels a 9 point lead. We finally called the timeout, but the lead was too much to overcome.
With Jimmie on the bench, Ole Miss did not have to respect our inside game so they really extended their defense and put a lot of pressure on our guards. We had too many turnovers and otherwise could not get anything going offensively for much of the second half. The turnovers, and inability to slow down the Rebels point guard play, led to an abysmal second half defensive performance.
During the timeout, Coach Brannen really chewed Mike Kessens, but Mike's body language was not very receptive or respectful.
With our recent second half struggles, I have to wonder if the lack of depth is becoming an issue. We're only going 8 deep, including playing Dakota Slaughter for 21 minutes in this game. Dakota had a very nice game, scoring 8 points and going 2 for 4 from 3 point range, and he held his own defensively. Perhaps he should have been receiving a little more playing time all along, I think he's at least good enough to give us some quality minutes while the scholarship guys get a breather. I also don't understand why we haven't seen Devin Mitchell the last few games. Especially as much as we were pressing once we fell behind in the second half, it would have been nice to have some more warm bodies out there.
I have to give credit to Ole Miss's Stefan Moody. I really like the way he plays the game. He's a lot like Retin athletically only quicker, but he has outstanding vision and makes great decisions. He scored 25 points, and his dribble-drive and passing ability directly led to many more.
It's unfortunate this senior class had to go out with a loss, as they have stuck with us and continued to work hard through good and bad times the last 4 years. Levi certainly did everything he could as captain, 32 points, 39 minutes, and a school record 17 for 17 from the line. Coop also finished strong with 14 points and 6 of 7 from the line, and as discussed above Dakota Slaughter played well, and probably could have got even more minutes if not for having to come out of the game with a bloody nose. It's sad that we may never get to watch those 3 play in Coleman again, and I certainly wish them the best in the future.
It was a small crowd of only around 4,000, but many people moved down closer to the court and those who showed up were generally loud and supportive, trying to will the team back from behind in the final minutes.
If you thought we would be a bubble team this year, congratulations, you were right. We are squarely on the NIT bubble.
The loss was a huge blow to any realistic chances we had of making a run in the SEC tournament. With Florida's win over Texas A&M, we are now mathematically eliminated from 7th place. We will more than likely have to face either Florida or Vanderbilt in the Thursday game, and we all know what little success we've had against either of those teams. If you are still holding out hope, the best case scenario for us is Tennessee somehow upset LSU in Baton Rouge tonight then beat South Carolina while we lose our final game to drop down to the 10 seed and avoid a potential second round matchup with Kentucky.
Up next, we go to College Station, TX to take on the Texas A&M Aggies in a 1 pm tipoff that will be televised on FSN. As I said above, a loss could be better for our SEC tournament projections, but a win is likely needed for NIT hopes, for whatever that is worth. I am making the trip, which will complete my tour of the SEC arenas. I'm looking forward to meeting MSmilie at the game.