That was the last opportunity. Ole Miss needed to knock off No. 2 Florida if they wanted any chance to get back on the bubble, and possibly secure an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
After a first half that saw Ole Miss tied with Florida, and Marshall Henderson drop 22 points, Andy Kennedy’s Rebels had a chance to get the upset, but Florida was too good, and held on for a 75-71 win.
Now, the only hope to return to the NCAA Tournament is to repeat as SEC Tournament Champions in March.
“I haven’t one time said that we’re an NCAA Tournament team. We haven’t earned our way into that conversation. So we’re not relevant,” Kennedy said.
“I’ve never tried to force us into that. We had opportunities here at home and we did not get it done. Bottom line. I’m not talking NCAA Tournament with this team. I’m talking, let’s improve. Let’s win a game. It’s been two weeks since we’ve won a game, which seems like an eternity.”
Over the last two weeks, Ole Miss dropped road games at Alabama and Georgia. Neither was a loss that would knock Ole Miss out of bubble talk, but the Rebels had nothing to counter all of the losses to average teams.
This week provided that opportunity, as Ole Miss hosted two top-25 teams, Kentucky and Florida. But, Ole Miss fell short. The Rebels shot 1 of 6 from the field in the closing two minutes against Florida, any made basket could have extended the game.
And Henderson, who torched the nets in the first half with 22 points on 7 of 14 shooting, couldn’t get anything to drop to in the last 20 minutes. He was 0 of 6 in the second half.
So now, Ole Miss will have to pull off a run in the SEC Tournament. Last season, the Rebels got a double bye and only had to play three games to win it all. But this year, a top four seed looks unlikely, so the Rebels will have to win four games in four days in Atlanta.
That is the only way the Rebels can send Marshall Henderson back to the NCAA Tournament in his senior season.