Rebels can’t hold late lead, drop fifth straight in 80-76 loss to LSU

The frustration in Breein Tyree’s voice was palpable as he faced the same questions, about the same issues, after the same result the moments after Ole Miss’ 80-76 loss to LSU that dropped the Rebels to 9-8 (0-4).

Ole Miss has now lost five consecutive games.

Tyree was hardly the reason for this defeat. He who poured in a career high 36 points on 12-20 shooting. But Tyree shouldered blame anyway, citing the need to work harder and continue to chase a win that has eluded this team now for nearly three weeks.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Tyree said. “I am trying to give this team everything I have and we just can’t get a win. At some point, we have to come out on the other side of this.”

Tyree spoke like a senior whose days in an Ole Miss uniform are numbered. That sense of urgency seemed to dawn on Tyree as he held back his emotions. He’s scored 25-plus in the last three contests and his career high came as he played through a lower back contusion that caused him to miss the team’s previous game at Florida.

“I am the only senior on the team,” Tyree said. “I don’t want to go out giving Rebel nation this image of losing games. It is really hard. I am going to keep trying until the wheels fall off.”

The ineptitude around Tyree is what cost Ole Miss a chance at its first SEC win. The Rebels entered he game leading the Southeastern Conference in free throw percentage, only to post a 9-19 mark in this game. Tyree was a perfect 9-9 at the line. The rest of the team was 0-10. They were out-rebounded by 16 points.

“That was obviously the difference in the game,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “We had a chance to stretch out a lead in the second half and just couldn’t make free throws.”

Ole Miss led in spurts. It went into the locker room tied at 36, hoping to find a way to combat Tiger forwards Trendon Watford and Emmitt Williams on the glass, as well as find a way to neutralize senior guard Javonte Smart on the perimeter. Smart finished with 20 points. Williams and Watford snared a combined 17 rebounds.  After LSU took a nine-point lead midway through the second half, the Rebels erupted for a 15-2 run that helped earn them a 67-62 advantage with 6:35 left. A four-minute scoring drought followed and it proved to be fatal.

“We just had some mental lapses that the average fan can’t see,” Davis said. “You can’t do that against a veteran team like that.”

The breakdowns Davis is referring to came both in crucial moments and gradual sequences. The Rebels are a poor rim-protecting team. When LSU beat an Ole Miss guard off the bounce, it got to the rim with little resistance. Williams had 17 points on the interior as well.

Those lapses plagued them in the game’s most crucial moment. Down three points in the final minute, Davis called timeout and drew up a play to get Tyree the basketball. Freshman Austin Crowley aborted the draw-up and shot a three that clanged off the rim.

“It was set up perfect and he just shoots it,” Davis said. “I get a guy shooting the ball. I wouldn’t shoot it as my first shot all night. But when a head coach is calling a play, but when a coach calls a play… He is a great kid. I am not trying to put it all on Austin. He is going to make shots for us. It just wasn’t the right time.”

To top it all off, junior guard Devontae Shuler continued to struggle. He scored six points on 2-7 shooting and posted a -21 plus-minus line in a four-point defeat.

“He is still just really struggling,” Davis said. “As a veteran guard, he needs to play better. I know his heart is in the right place but he needs to be more productive.”

Ole Miss has been close in three of the four games it has lost in SEC play. It has failed to make winning plays down the stretch in all of them — the Florida game with no Tyree and Khadim Sy not withstanding.

The close calls with no results have amplified the frustration Tyree showed in the postgame. He’s torched opposing defenses for 26, 27 and 36 points in the three games he has played. But the bottom line is that the Rebels lack a consistent shot-maker behind him, like the role Tyree played to Terence Davis a season ago.

The road does not get any easier for this scuffling group. Road games at Tennessee and Georiga come next week followed by a home game against a ranked Auburn team, and then a return trip to Baton Rouge. Ole Miss failed to capitalize on a manageable slate to start league play and will now have to combat a brutal stretch of their season behind the proverbial eight ball.

“Everyone needs to take responsibility for their games,” Tyree said.” We need to get in the gym even when we have an off day.. That is when you get better and when this team will start winning. It is the extra little bit that you need. We could easily be 3-1 in the league right now. We are 0-4 and we have to keep going or it is going to snowball.”