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Ole Miss falls to No. 14 Alabama 103-88, putting NCAA Tournament hopes on life support

Ole Miss basketball
Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament hopes are now on life support following Wednesday night’s 103-88 loss to No. 14 Alabama.

In a must-win game, the Rebels (19-9, 6-9 SEC) were unable to stop the Crimson Tide’s (20-8, 12-3 SEC) high-powered offense that scored 45 total points from behind the arc in an opponent’s arena.

A hot start by Ole Miss had the team up by as many as 14 in the first half. The Rebels capitalized on Matthew Murrell and Allen Flanigan having hot hands early. A spiked dunk Flanigan gave Ole Miss a 37-23 advantage with 5:37 left until the midway break.

Then Alabama, the nation’s top-scoring offense, woke up after an anemic beginning to the game. A trio of triples from three different players and a pair of free throws from Nick Pringle led the Crimson Tide on an 11-0 run over a three-minute span to reduce a 14-point deficit to three with 1:32 left before the half.

Ole Miss managed to hold onto its lead, extending it to as many as six, but a triple by Alabama sensation Mark Sears as the buzzer expired put the Crimson Tide within one possession. The Rebels led 42-39 at the intermission.

It took just under one minute for Alabama to take a lead in the second half, but Ole Miss continued to fight back to try to defend home court. The two teams proceeded to spar, but the Crimson Tide started to pull away, holding a 60-51 lead with 14:19 left in the game.

Five free throws later, Ole Miss found itself back within four. The Rebels continued to press the issue and use the charity stripe as a mechanism to find easy buckets — and it worked. When it appeared that the Tide had taken control of the game, the Rebels found enough momentum to knot things up 65-65 with just under 10 minutes of action remaining.

That run was countered by a pair of triples on Alabama’s end. After tying things up, Ole Miss was outscored 38-23 down the stretch.

Valiant efforts to remain alive offensively aside, Ole Miss was simply unable to contain the Crimson Tide’s attack from the perimeter. Even in the rare case that Alabama missed a triple, Ole Miss struggled to grab rebounds on the defensive end and Nate Oats’ squad capitalized with putbacks, cementing a road victory for the Tide.

“We had some missed assignments,” Beard said after the game. “Many of their three-point shots tonight weren’t manufactured by their offense. They were manufactured by our mistakes, but give them credit. They had the spacing and the talent out there to force the mistakes.”

Leading the way for the Rebels was Flanigan, who did not start Wednesday’s game for disciplinary reasons, with 28 points. Brakefield, continuing to battle a wrist injury, put 21 points on the board. Murrell cooled off after a hot start to the game and logged 12 points in the loss.

Alabama had six players score double figures in the midweek showdown. Sears led the team with 28 and Aaron Estrada had 18.

The biggest difference in the game took place on the offensive glass. The Crimson Tide hauled in seven more offensive boards than the Rebels. Ole Miss also turned the ball over six more times than its counterpart. The collective pair of miscues on the Rebels’ end ultimately allowed Alabama to shoot the ball 16 more times in the competition.

Ole Miss shot an impressive 52% from the floor but was outscored by 21 points from behind the arc, setting up a tough home loss. The Rebels, on a three-game losing streak and in desperate need to get back on the win column, will travel to Columbia to face a Missouri team that remains winless in SEC play. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. central.

“We’ll just get back to work,” Beard continued. “It’s all you can do. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. You’ve just got to get back to work. One of many reasons that I’ve really enjoyed coaching this team is that our guys have a pretty short-term memory. We’ve had some highs and we’ve had some lows. This team has responded really well.”

As for NCAA Tournament hopes, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Rebels in his “last four out” category. Ole Miss will likely have to win the remainder of its regular season matchups and find a couple of wins in the SEC Tournament in order to make it to the big dance.

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