Not a single publication gave the 2014–15 Ole Miss Basketball team a chance.
They were voted to finish near the bottom of the SEC by the media and, after an opening game loss to Charleston Southern at home, it appeared that the media may have been right.
But then it slowly happened. Over the course of the next 90 days, the Rebels put together a streak of wins, including sweeps of Florida, Mississippi State, and at one point won seven straight SEC games. All of a sudden, these young men were on the radar and looked like an SEC Tournament team.
The Rebels finished the regular season tied for third in the SEC, and made the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last three seasons. Barely. Ole Miss was the last team selected to play in the field of 68 and headed to Dayton, Ohio for a round one game against BYU.
Then it happened. Trailing by 17 at halftime, it looked like Ole Miss didn’t belong in the tournament after all. Head Coach Andy Kennedy put together a speech during the intermission, made some adjustments and all Ole Miss did was score 62 points in the second half en route to a 94–90 victory. It was one of the largest comebacks in NCAA Tournament History.
“We wanted to show that we belonged here,” Kennedy said after the game. “I challenged our guys to show that we are worthy of this selection. There are a lot of quality teams in college basketball that don’t have this opportunity, so let’s go show that we’re worthy, and we did that.”
Led by Junior guard Stefan Moody, who scored a team-high 26 points including five three-pointers, the Rebels scored 50 points in the last 14:07 to secure the victory. That’s a pace of 141 points per game.
Six Ole Miss players scored in double digits and the Rebels quickly became the most talked-about team in the nation. After all, this was a team that took No. 1 Kentucky to overtime in Lexington during the regular season.
Just 41 hours later, the Rebels played again. After traveling from Dayton to Jacksonville, Fla., Ole Miss took on Xavier in the second round. The quick turnaround proved to be too much for Ole Miss, as they fell to No. 6 seed Xavier 76–57 ending their season at 21–13.
But they never quit. A team that No. 38 would have been proud of, Ole Miss proved that Kennedy and his squad belonged in the NCAA Tournament. It was the eighth appearance by Ole Miss in the Big Dance and just the program’s fifth victory. Kennedy has two of those.
With seven 20+ win seasons in the nine years Kennedy has been the head coach at Ole Miss makes way for his toughest challenge yet. Ole Miss will lose five seniors from this team in Jarvis Summers, LaDarius “Snoop” White, Aaron Jones, M.J. Rhett, and Terence Smith.
With a new Pavilion scheduled to be ready for SEC play in January of 2016, Ole Miss will certainly become a bottom of the SEC pick by the media again this fall. But, what else is new?
Resilience and making the “experts” look foolish is one thing Kennedy has done year after year. Kennedy has won more games in his first nine seasons in the SEC than any other coach sans Billy Donavon and Kentucky’s Bobby Hall.
He finds players.
He develops talent.
Photo courtesy of Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Sports.