There was no reason to. The final score, an unthinkable 73-67 loss, said enough.
“For me, it was shocking,” he said. “No one had much to say really. I just told the guys it isn’t over until that last game.”
The Rebels played arguably their worst game of the season against the in-state rival Bulldogs, their second loss to a sub-200 RPI team in Southeastern Conference play. The loss continued their road struggles, the Rebels having now lost five straight.
“The bottom line is you’re not supposed to lose games to (teams) you’re supposed to beat,” head coach Andy Kennedy said.
So, rather than re-live the disaster in Starkville, Holloway and his teammates focused only on Alabama. As a result, a much-needed, 87-83 win on Tuesday. But they’ll have to break through away from home to keep their faint NCAA tournament hopes alive, with a road trip to LSU to conclude the regular season set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
With a win, Ole Miss (22-8, 11-6 SEC) can secure a top four seed and double-bye to the Friday quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn., next week.
The Rebels are currently in a four-way tie for second place in the SEC. Ole Miss could still finish as the No. 4 seed with a loss at LSU, but Alabama, who Ole Miss holds the tiebreaker over, would have to lose at home against Georgia.
“Right now, for us, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality,” Kennedy said.
Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway
USA TODAY images
“We want to make sure that we have an opportunity to play the (teams in Nashville) that are going to help us. By getting into the top four, you know you’re going to play a quality opponent right from jump that’s going to help you.”
Ole Miss’ NCAA tournament stock rose on Thursday without the Rebels playing a game. A number of bubble teams suffered losses, including Kentucky to Georgia and Virginia to Florida State.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Ole Miss as his “last team out” after Thursday’s action. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com has Ole Miss behind UMass in his “last four out.” UMass lost to Butler on Thursday.
“I feel like we have to win,” Holloway said of the Rebels’ bubble position. “I’m just going to try to win them all. I don’t know if there’s a certain number to get to. We got to win Saturday.”
Ole Miss checks in at No. 57 in the RPI, according to CBSSports.com. LSU enters Saturday’s showdown with an RPI ranked No. 80. The Rebels are 6-6 against RPI top-100 teams.
“Even though people think it’s so much easier to get in now, that’s completely false, simply because now there is so much as it relates to these RPI numbers,” Kennedy said. “Because of the numbers, everything has changed. It comes down to handling our business in league play. That’s what it’s always come down to for us.”
LSU beat Texas A&M on the road in the midweek to improve to 18-10 overall and 9-8 in league play. The Tigers are 14-2 at home. Forward Charles Carmouche has scored at least 20 points in his last four games, the first Tiger to do so since 2009.
Along with Carmouche, the Rebels will also be tasked with slowing forward Johnny O’Bryant, a native of Cleveland, Miss., and a player Kennedy is quite familiar with.
Kennedy recruited O’Bryant, a former four-star prospect, for the better part of four seasons. However, the Rebels finished second to LSU in 2011, and two years later, he’s averaging 13.7 points per game and 8.7 rebounds.
“He’s playing very good basketball,” Kennedy said. “I think he’s as good a low-post scorer as there is in our league. I’m very familiar with him. We recruited him as hard as we could for a long time because I knew the potential that he had, and he’s playing to that. He’s playing free in the post. He’s got a good all-around game.”