In a game surrounded by national attention after eight players from Ole Miss knelt during the National Anthem in protest of a neo-Confederate rally, the Rebels survived a nail-biter in The Pavilion, beating the Georgia Bulldogs 72-71.
The win puts Ole Miss at 19-8, still in the mix for NCAA Tournament selection.
Georgia’s sloppy play early led to 12 first-half turnovers. The Bulldogs’ miscues contributed to a 13-0 run for Ole Miss, giving them a 28-18 edge with just under nine minutes to play. The Bulldogs struggled to get into a rhythm offensively, making just one field goal in the last 6:20 of the half. Ole Miss would carry a 39-29 lead at halftime behind a balanced scoring attack that saw nine Rebels score in the first 20 minutes.
Georgia opened the second half on a 13-2 run, taking a 43-41 lead with roughly 16 minutes left in the game. Ole Miss was able to absorb the blow from the Bulldogs and string together a 13-2 run of its own to pull ahead 64-56 with a little more than five minutes remaining. The Rebels’ scoring spree featured nine points from Breein Tyree, including seven straight from the junior guard.
The Rebels were clinging to a 72-71 lead with 11 seconds left when Tyree missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Georgia collected the rebound and called a timeout, enabling head coach Tom Crean to draw up a play with five seconds left. Ole Miss suffocated Nicholas Claxton, who received the inbounds pass, forcing him to pass to Tyree Crump; however, the junior Bulldog guard came up just short on his three-point attempt at the buzzer.
“We almost tripled-teamed (Claxton). (Crump) took a 28-footer, and when we are up one, that’s the shot you want them to take,” head coach Kermit Davis said.
Three Rebels finished in double figures, led by Tyree with 17. Devontae Shuler followed up with 16 points, and Terence Davis scored 13. Rayshaun Hammonds paced the Bulldogs with 16 points, while Jordan Harris had 15.
Ole Miss was able to bottle up Claxton, who entered the contest as one of only two players in the nation to lead his team in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. Claxton finished with 13 points but also had eight turnovers.
Prior to the game, eight Ole Miss players took a knee during the national anthem for the first time this season. When asked about it after the game, Kermit Davis said he was unaware of the players’ intentions prior to taking the court.
“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community and tried to spread racism and bigotry,” Kermit Davis said. “I think our players made an emotional decision to show these people they are not welcome on our campus. We respect our players’ freedom and ability to choose that.”
Breein Tyree was one of the players who chose to kneel during the anthem after Shuler led the protest.
“We are just tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus like it’s our actual university having these hate groups in our school,” Tyree said. “We saw one of our teammates doing it, and we just didn’t want him to be alone.”
The game took place at the same time pro-Confederate groups were marching just a few hundred yards away from the Pavilion protesting the possible removal of Confederate statues.
Next up for the Rebels is a home matchup versus the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers, who are 24-2 (12-2). The Volunteers are tied for first in the SEC, but they are coming off a tough overtime loss on the road at LSU on Saturday. Tipoff is set for at 6 p.m. Wednesday.