The game was a slog, and as minutes melted off the clock, Ole Miss was staring its fifth straight loss in the face. Down 62-56 to a lowly Texas A&M team with just over five minutes remaining, desperation spawned urgency from Terence Davis.
The senior jumped into the passing lane on back-to-back possessions, registering two steals that led to a layup and Breein Tyree triple that shaved the margin to one. Ole Miss took the lead a possession later and ended the game on a 19-9 run to secure its first victory in over two weeks, pulling one out of the fire in what would have been a devastating defeat.
“He put us on his shoulders tonight,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “He has been terrific in practice the last two days. We had some toughness things in practice and he didn’t flinch. When the game got going a little sideways, he was the guy that made all the plays.. He was good. Good for TD. A guy with that kind of experience in these kind of games, he played like a desperate senior tonight.”
This game had the makings of disaster for Ole Miss. The gym was half full in preparation for an early weeknight tipoff against a team that is now 1-8 in the SEC, and a deficit that reached nine in the second half. Oh, and an ailing coach. Kermit Davis fell ill before the game and actually missed the first couple minutes of the second half. He returned to the bench eventually and pressed on despite being under the weather.
Ole Miss shot 41 percent from the field in this game, got out-rebounded by five and gave up 15 second chance points. Wendell Mitchell scored 23 for A&M and tormented the Rebels as they had no answer. The Aggies led by nine with 12 minutes left, but the Rebels managed to gut one out, primarily through sequences like Terence Davis’ with five minutes left. Ole Miss scored 31 points off turnovers, the difference in moving to 5-4 in the SEC at the halfway mark and coping with its fifth straight defeat.
“We were desperate and needed a win,” Kermit Davis said. “It was hard fought and much needed for the Rebels tonight.”
Breein Tyree scored 22 on 7-of-15 shooting. Terence Davis added 19 with eight rebounds, five assists and a career-high seven steals.
Keep in mind, this is largely the same team that folded in adverse conditions a year ago en route to a 12-20 record and a coaching change. That fragility seems to have faded. Tyree, Davis and Devontae Shuler — a trio that leads the club in more ways than one— had a meeting with Kermit Davis after the Mississippi State loss to asses why this team had lost four in a row and five of six.
“He told us what he needed out of us, what more he needed out of us,” Terence Davis said. “Tonight, I wanted to accept the challenge and do what I needed to do.”
The trio met on their own after leaving the meeting with their head coach, sensing the team was at a bit of a crossroads in the doldrums of late January and early February. The losing skid had become substantial.
“We told each other what we needed out of each other and what we needed to limit,” Terence Davis said. “It was a real conversation that was much needed.”
It’s an ugly brand of basketball Ole Miss has played the last two weeks, but it sits in good position despite it. The Rebels are 15-7 and above .500 in the SEC, a place most didn’t think they’d be at this point. The schedule remains forgiving for another week-and-a-half before a brutal finishing stretch.
This team still has its fair share of issues. It gets killed on the glass. Dominik Olejniczak and Bruce Stevens combined for seven rebounds a game after the pair did not register a defensive board. Kermit Davis couldn’t play Bruce Stevens much in the second half because the Aggies were killing Ole Miss around the rim.
“Every time Bruce came in the game, (Josh Nebo) ran out and dunked the ball on us,” Kermit Davis said. “We played Dom because of his toughness. He made some great verticality plays at the end. It was better. We are still a work in progress.”
But nevertheless, the team is 5-4 at the halfway point of SEC play, thanks to pulling out a win that didn’t come easy, particularly given the catastrophic consequences a loss would’ve brought with it.
“I was proud of our team,” Kermit Davis said. “In the second half, we held them to 39 percent. I thought it was more toughness and contested shots.”