Rebels drop heartbreaker to USC in SEC tourney
South Carolina’s Tyrone Johnson went 0-for-5 from the field, but had the basketball in his hands with his team down 58-57 in the final seconds of the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament–unfortunately for Ole Miss, he was standing at the free-throw line at the time.
As a senior, Johnson used his last-minute tactics to draw a foul on Ole Miss’ LaDarius White as Johnson was going up for the game-winner.
Johnson put in all three foul shots and sent the Gamecocks into the quarterfinals round with the 60-58 victory over the Rebels.
Michael Carrera had 16 points and six rebounds to lead South Carolina. Duane Notice added 15 and Sindarius Thornwell pitched in 10, but it was Johnson (five points, five rebounds, three assists), who stole the show and delivered when his team desperately needed him to most.
So close to a comeback
But for a few agonizing seconds–literally just seconds–The Rebels thought they had pulled off a fantastic comeback.
Ole Miss (20-12) was down 57-54 and junior guard Stefan Moody had the ball in his hands and dribbled up mid-court, only to find a swarm of Gamecocks ready to take it from him or attmpt to force him into turning it over.
Moody outsmarted South Carolina (17-15) and was able to find senior guard Jarvis Summers open for the 3-pointer that he converted into a four-point play. At that point, the Rebels led 58-57 and it seemed the Rebels would pull out the win.
Not so fast.
Gamecocks’ guard Notice was called for the foul on Summers. He looked at the closest referee with his eyes almost about to pop out and his mouth wide open. The entire traveling group of Ole Miss fans had Bridgestone Arena rocking back and forth. Even Marshall Henderson was in attendance to see the magic happen during March Madness. The three from Summers was a memory of Marshall’s heroics in Ole Miss’ 2013 SEC title run.
But, the Rebels’ celebration quickly vanished once LaDarius White was called for creating enough contact as Johnson was going up for the potential game-winner. White finished the game with a team-high 17 points.
Andy Kennedy spoke with reporters after the game and described what happened in those final seconds after Summers’ basket and free throw:
“I called timeout; they put a few tenths of a second back on the clock. Then our whole premise was just make them catch it going back towards our basket. That’s what we did. They ran some wide outs, some floods, and we made them catch it coming back. You figure three seconds, you’re probaby going to have to guard a couple of dribbles. Don’t let them lean into you. Don’t let them flop into a foul. Just run beside and try to make them score over the top. And unfortunately, we didn’t get it done.” Andy Kennedy
Johnson, an 83 percent free throw shooter, iced the game from foul line, dropping all three through the net, giving South Carolina its second win in two days and a quarterfinals round match up against No. 3 seeded Georgia.
In the post game press conference, LaDarius White was asked if he thought he fouled Johnson. “Not at all,” he answered.
Now Ole Miss must sit back and await the conclusion of all the conference championships to see if it receives a bid to the NCAA tournament. Coming into Thursday night, the Rebels were a No. 11 seed in Joe Lunardi’s Latest Bracketology. Ole Miss needed a win to avoid falling into the “Last Four In” group.
With the loss, the Rebels will have to wait until Selection Sunday to see where they will fall in the field of 68.
Slow starts for both teams
Ole Miss, losers of 4 of its last 5, played majority of the first half without its top two scorers, Jarvis Summers and Stefan Moody, who sat on the bench with two fouls apiece. While those two were on the bench, frustrated and eager to get back in the game, the Rebels had to find scoring elsewhere and down 20-13 to South Carolina with 5:54 to go in the first half, Summers connected on a three-point play to cut Ole Miss’ deficit to four.
The Gamecocks used a short 7-0 run to go up 26-16 over a Rebels team that turned the ball over 21 times, outperforming their season average of 11 turnovers per game. Ole Miss started the game 5-of-21, then went 3-of-4 from the floor to end the game on an 8-1 run, despite the rough start on offense.
South Carolina was able to score 19 off of the Rebels’ 21 uncharacteristic turnovers and went into halftime up 27-24. Michael Carrera led the Gamecocks with 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Not one Ole Miss’ player hit the double digit mark in scoring in the first half. LaDarius White came thr closest with nine points.
Both teams shot 30 percent from the floor and had a difficult task mustering a stable offensive outing. But, in the end, it was the South Carolina Gamecocks who found the inside of the net when it mattered most–or at least the free-throw line.
Coach Kennedy: “I’ve got a good locker room”
Though it was obvious to all in attendance at the post game presser that the Rebels were still a bit in shock after losing the game under such harsh circumstances, Coach Kennedy explained what he told his kids afterwards:
“Well I will tell you exactly what I told them. I told them I was proud of their effort. I have been proud of their effort for the most part through 32 games. I got a good locker room, a good group of kids who have tried real hard for us all year.” Andy Kennedy
But the coach also went on to explain that in the game of basketball, things just sometimes don’t go your way. “That’s the price of competition,” he said. “If you don’t want to live in this world, then don’t compete, because it’s the price of competition. The highs are high and the lows are low. We were real excited when Jarvis made that four point play. We’re not so excited now.”
Hopefully Ole Miss will have something to be excited about when the field of 68 is announced.
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.