If the Ole Miss men’s basketball team had any margin for error left this season, it disappeared after the Rebels’ 67-62 loss to Kentucky on Saturday.
The team’s already-unlikely path to the NCAA tournament that suddenly opened with a three-game win streak is now slowly closing as the Rebels have no more room for error.
A five-point loss to head coach John Calipari and the powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats in Rupp Arena is nothing to scoff at, especially considering how the Rebels were playing 14 days ago, but the loss puts even more pressure on an already desperate team.
The Rebels had a set course to sneak into the Big Dance after an abysmal start in the SEC schedule. Making a splash by knocking off a top-tier opponent like No. 10 Kentucky on the road would have catapulted them into the bubble with more opportunities and the regular season coming to a close.
Ole Miss failed to put away the Wildcats after holding the lead for most of the game.Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler missed vital shots that could have secured another impressive win.
“We talked about being the toughest team in the gym. (Those were) two really tough teams playing at the end,” head coach Kermit Davis said after the loss.
Now, the Rebels could be looking at a closing window to the tournament with six games left to play.
The next challenge will come in a must-win matchup at Missouri on Tuesday night. The Tigers are 12-13, but they are trending upward after a win over No. 13 Auburn on Saturday. The resurgent Tigers have proved to be tough at Mizzou Arena with a 10-3 home record.
A win on Tuesday night is key for the Rebels to have any chance at the postseason with the margin of error getting smaller. Ole Miss still has opportunities for quality wins with matchups against Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State before the SEC tournament, but succeeding in those games won’t help if they can’t beat Vanderbilt or Missouri at home.
Tyree looked unusually fallible at the end of the Kentucky game, missing the front end of a one-and-one twice, but he’ll have to return to his high-scoring ways with the lack of depth across the roster. Khadim Sy has to bounce back after a forgettable battle against star Kentucky center Nick Richards. Shuler has to be a steady presence again after a puzzling shot to end the game on Saturday.
The Rebels must bounce back immediately on the road because any stretch of lackluster play could effectively end the Rebels’ chances for going anywhere in the SEC Tournament or any postseason competition.