100 YEARS FLASHBACK: 1981 SEC Tournament Championship
As part of this season's celebration of the First 100 years of Ole Miss Basketball, OleMissSports.com will be featuring stories and exclusive content throughout the year that look back on some of the great moments, teams and players of the past.
In 1981, Cinderella wore Red and Blue. The underdog Rebels, who finished sixth in the league in the regular season, defeated Tennessee and Vanderbilt before advancing to face Dominique Wilkins' Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament final. The following is the Clarion-Ledger's account of March 7, 1981.
It's a Miracle! Ole Miss to the NCAA
By Jerry Porter
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Last winter, America had “Miracle on Ice.”
This winter, Mississippi, or the portion of the state cloaked in red and blue, has “Miracle on the Hardwood.”
Ole Miss, a team headed for nowhere but Birmingham when it left Oxford Wednesday afternoon, is now headed for the NCAA Basketball tournament.
The Rebels earned a berth here Saturday night with a pulsating 66-62 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
It would be somewhat inappropriate to say the victory was unexpected because this week the Rebels have made the unexpected the expected. They’ve won three straight games to push their record to 16-13 after coming here as a .500 ball club.
Saturday night they let Georgia’s Dominique Wilkins bury them in an early grave, only to rise in the final 4 minutes and 49 seconds to earn their first trip to the NCAA.
A year ago, the Rebels earned a spot in the National Invitation Tournament, the first post-season bid in the long history of the sport at Ole Miss. But now, the Rebels have carved themselves a spot in the NCAA, the Big’Un of college basketball.
The architects of the victory were Elston Turner, Sean Tuohy and Roger Stieg. Turner and Tuohy earned spots on the all-tournament team with their performances. Stieg didn’t make it, but it’s hard to imagine the Rebels winning without him.
Ole Miss trailed by as many as 10 points on three different occasions in the first half. And the Rebs looked like they were going to get blown out by Wilkins, Georgia’s 6-foot-7 forward.
He scored 20 points in the first half, once picking up 6 straight to give the Bulldogs an 8-point lead.
Turner, the Rebs’ defensive standout, seemed to be helpless against him. And offensively, Turner was as cold as ice, hitting just 4 of 11 shots.
But in the second half, Turner managed to loosen up for 11 points, while Wilkins could only get 8. When it was over, Turner has 22 points and Wilkins had 28.
“I don’t think Elston did anything different to me in the second half,” said Wilkins, who was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. “But he did play a lot stronger against me. I don’t know why I didn’t get the ball more in the second half.”
Georgia coach Hugh Durham said Ole Miss was the reason Wilkins didn’t score much in the final 20 minutes. “They put pressure on the ball out front,” he explained, “and tried to guide it away from him. You just can’t pitch it up in there because they’ve got good players in there.
“We just can’t say we want to get the ball to Wilkins, because they don’t want you to get the ball to Wilkins.”
Ole Miss, which had repeated chances to fold in the game, never seemed to rattle. The Rebels kept hanging and hanging until finally they pulled within 3, 53-50, on a jumper by Turner with eight minutes to go.
Turner had been taken out of the game by coach Bob Weltlich with 9:37 left in the game. He sat on the bench for less than a minute before going back in, but it was some advice from Weltlich which seemed to spur him to life.
“I told him when he got ready to play like he has played for us for the past four years to let me know,” said Weltlich. “Then I’d put him back in the game.”
After Turner brought the Rebs within 3, Stieg stole the ball from Georgia, triggering a fast break which Turner cashed in with a slam dunk, bringing the Rebs within 1 point.
Ole Miss stole the ball from Georgia again and Turner scored again his sixth straight point to give Ole Miss a 54-53 lead at 5:43. Wilkins put Georgia back on top again, but Chris Barrett put Ole Miss up again. Georgia’s Vern Fleming tied.
The two teams diced with each other until Barrett hit a jump shot from deep in the corner at 2:35 to put Ole Miss up 60-58. The Rebels never trailed from that point.
For the final two minutes, Ole Miss worked its delay game. Georgia had some fouls to give, so the Bulldogs used them to stop the clock.
But Ole Miss retained possession and with 53 seconds left, Turner sneaked behind the Georgia defense for a layup and a 62-58 lead.
It was all but over then. Stieg cashed in two free throws and Carlos Clark and Tuohy added one each to protect the victory in the final minute.
Stieg, a 6-8 center, only scored 4 points in the game, but he made up for it in all the other areas of the game. He claimed four rebounds, stole the ball four times and blocked one of Wilkins’ shots. Tuohy threw in 12 points and handed out assists.
“The mistakes we made were created by Ole Miss,” said Durham, who saw his team sink to 18-11.
“They won and the reason they won is they played very, very well in the last 10 minutes of the game.”
The victory was a double thrill for Weltlich, who helped his father, Bob, celebrate his 68th birthday.
“We stuck in there and hung in there and continued to play hard,” Weltlich said. “That was the key.”
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