May 4, 2012
By Joey Jones
Associate Director, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Two yellow digits shone brightly from the black box that sat atop the New Orleans Arena backboards.
The number of seconds left before Ole Miss would defeat Tennessee and advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals.
Terrance Henry had just knocked down two free throws to increase the Rebels’ lead to three. As long as they forced the Vols into a tough 3-point attempt, it was a foregone conclusion what would happen.
But someone forgot to tell that to Skylar McBee, the floppy-mopped, orange-clad sharpshooter.
After Ole Miss called a timeout to set up its defense, Tennessee point guard Trae Golden dribbled and weaved his way all the way to UT’s 3-point line, where he handed the ball back to McBee, who quickly let go an off-balance jumper from three feet behind the arc. Off the backboard. Swish.
With heads already starting to hang, Ole Miss retrieved the ball. Nick Williams heaved a desperation halfcourt attempt that was no good.
Tennessee players leaped, yelled and hugged. Every orange fan in the building screamed and offered high fives to anyone within reach.
The Rebels in blue were stunned. How could this have happened? It wasn’t even a good look for McBee.
“When McBee hit that shot, I was like ‘Are you kidding me?” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy told reporters after the game.
“I couldn’t believe he banked in the 3,” Henry told reporters. “Two months ago, we might have laid down right then.”
Tempted to give in to the swelling tide of Volunteer momentum, the Rebels picked up their heads and proved – like they had throughout the 2011-12 season – that just when you thought they were dead, they found the strength to overcome.
In overtime, Ole Miss was the poised side. The team in blue knocked down their jump shots and played a scrappy, frenetic style of defense, forcing multiple Tennessee turnovers. They fought harder, jumped higher for rebounds.
In the end, it was indeed the Rebels that prevailed by a final score of 77-72. And in this moment, a microcosm of the team’s season presented itself: Nothing was easy, no victory taken for granted. All 20 of the team’s wins were earned with grit, effort and sheer will.
“We weren’t going to lose this one,” Henry said. “In the end, I think we just wanted it more.”
It may not have been the most spectacular season in terms of points scored. And the Rebels missed the NCAA Tournament by a hair, again. But the effort with which Kennedy’s bunch fought night in and night out was the hallmark of his sixth Rebel team. They played in a way that made Ole Miss fans proud.
So here are some notes and tidbits to wrap up a season that was yet another successful one in this modern era of Ole Miss Hoops.
FIVE POSTSEASON BERTHS IN SIX YEARS
With a selection to the 2012 NIT, Ole Miss earned its fifth postseason berth in six seasons. Andy Kennedy is the first coach in school history to lead the Rebels to five postseason appearances. Ole Miss also made NIT appearances in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011, reaching the Final Four in New York in 2008 and 2010.
REBELS REACH 20 WINS ... AGAIN
The Rebels reached 20 wins for the fifth time in the last six seasons under Andy Kennedy. Ole Miss had seven 20-win campaigns in the 96 seasons prior to Kennedy’s arrival in Oxford. He is just the sixth coach in SEC history to guide his teams to 20+ wins in five of his first six seasons. The others: Joe. B. Hall (Kentucky), Don DeVoe (Tennessee), Rick Pitino (Kentucky), Tubby Smith (Kentucky) and Bruce Pearl (Tennessee).
REBELS IN THE SEMIFINALS
Ole Miss advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the 10th time in its history and the first time since 2007, Andy Kennedy’s first year at the helm. After the Rebels’ loss to eventual tournament champion Vanderbilt in the 2012 semis, they now own an all-time record of 4-6 in semifinal games.
KENNEDY’S FIRST SIX YEARS RANKS AMONG ALL-TIME SEC GREATS
With his 125th win at Ole Miss (vs. Tennessee), Andy Kennedy passed future Hall of Famer Billy Donovan for the sixth-most wins by an SEC head coach in his first six years in the league.
1. Rick Pitino (Kentucky) - 150
2. Bruce Pearl (Tennessee) - 145
3. Joe B. Hall (Kentucky) - 135
4. Wimp Sanderson (Alabama) - 127
5. Rick Stansbury (Mississippi State) - 126
6. Andy Kennedy (Ole Miss) - 125
HENRY, HOLLOWAY BUCKNER EARN SEC POSTSEASON HONORS
Senior F Terrance Henry was voted to the All-SEC second team by the league coaches, junior F Murphy Holloway was tabbed All-SEC honorable mention by the AP, and junior F Reginald Buckner was chosen to the SEC All-Defensive team by the league coaches. Henry, who averaged 13.0 ppg in conference play, received the first All-SEC accolade of his career. Buckner made the SEC All-Defensive team for the second straight year and is the only Rebel to make the team since its inception in 2008.
LOCKING DOWN ON “D”
Ole Miss established itself as one of the better defensive teams in the country in 2011-12. The Rebels ranked third in the SEC and 37th in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense at .405. Ole Miss went 15-3 when its opponent shot below 40 percent from the field. Ten different times the Rebels held their opponent below 60 points, including four times under 50 and a pair of games under 40.
HENRY REACHES 1,000 POINTS, ELITE CLUB AT OLE MISS
Against LSU, senior F Terrance Henry eclipsed 1,000 career points to become the 33rd member of the 1,000-point club at Ole Miss. He finished with 1,095 points to rank 28th in school history, while also ranking fifth all-time with 113 career blocked shots.
THE HOLLOWAY FACTOR
The court presence of junior F Murphy Holloway had a measurable impact on the Rebels in 2011-12. The second team All-SEC selection (Blue Ribbon) and All-SEC honorable mention pick (AP) was sorely missed after he sprained his ankle in the second half against Middle Tennessee (Dec. 21). The Rebels went on to drop that contest and two of the next three without him. He returned against Arkansas to score 19 points, grab 14 rebounds and effectively energize his teammates in leading the Rebels to victory. He shined brightly in New Orleans, including a 13-point, 13-rebound effort in the first-round SEC Tournament win over Auburn and 14 points and 10 boards in the second-round win over Tennessee. Ole Miss was 19-11 when Holloway played the whole game.
HOLLOWAY IS MASTER OF THE GLASS
In just his third season at Ole Miss, junior F Murphy Holloway broke into the school’s top 10 for career rebounds. He finished the year with 743 boards, which is ninth-most in school history. He also ranks eighth all-time with 25 double-doubles. Holloway averaged 9.0 boards per game. Since 1980, only one other Rebel had averaged 9.0 for a whole season (Dwayne Curtis - 9.6 in 2007-08).
BUCKNER MOVES UP IN SEC CAREER BLOCKS LIST
With four blocks at Southern Miss, junior F Reginald Buckner became the Rebels’ all-time career leader in blocked shots. In just 96 games, the Memphis native has now accumulated 228 blocks, which is 16th-most in SEC history. He now holds the school record for blocks in a career, season and game. He blocked at least one shot in 30 of 32 games in 2011-12 and 83 of 96 games over his three-year career. His total of 69 blocks is the Ole Miss record by a junior and is the second-most in a season in school history. His sophomore season total of 95 is the school record.
IN THE “NICK” OF TIME
Junior G Nick Williams stepped up his game in SEC play and ranked 20th among league players with 11.8 ppg in conference games. The Mobile, Ala., native tallied double figures in 12 of the last 19 games, including a career-high 22-point outburst in the SEC Tournament first-round win over Auburn.