In Ole Miss men’s basketball’s first game since Devontae Shuler led seven other players in kneeling during the national anthem, the Rebels fell to the No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers in heartbreaking fashion with a final score of 73-71.
The attention given to the team following the demonstration on Saturday could easily have become a distraction for the players. It seemingly wasn’t a problem in the locker room, as the Rebels competed with one of the top teams in America until the very end.
“I don’t think there were any distractions,” Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis said. “I think these guys handled it well. Obviously by the way we played, it wasn’t a distraction at all.”
The game couldn’t have started any worse for Ole Miss. The team allowed Tennessee to get out to an 8-0 lead to start the game — not a recipe for success against the No. 7 ranked team in the country.
However, the Rebels quickly fought back, making it a game again within minutes.
The two teams exchanged blows throughout the first half, but Tennessee led for the majority of the time until a Terence Davis three-pointer gave Ole Miss its first lead of the game with four minutes left in the half. Terence Davis finished the night with 16 points on 6-for-15 from the field, adding three rebounds and three assists as well.
“From day one, we talked about this not being a rebuilding team,” Terence Davis said. “This is an NCAA Tournament team. We look at ourselves as an NCAA (Tournament) team, and tonight I feel like we played like one.”
Ole Miss took a five-point lead into the half and succeeded in limiting the efforts of Tennessee’s star players, Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. The duo, who averaged 19 and 17 points, respectively, coming into the game, combined for a mere 10 points after 20 minutes of action.
“I thought we ended the half very well,” Kermit Davis said.
The second half, however, and specifically the final minute of the game, sealed the Rebels’ fate. Coming out of the break, a Blake Hinson jumper gave Ole Miss a seven-point lead, but Tennessee responded with a 14-0 run, draining the life out of The Pavilion for a time.
“The starts of second halves have been an issue for us,” Kermit Davis said. “We talk about it a bunch.”
At that point, the Rebels’ deficit could have gotten out of hand quickly, but Ole Miss hired Kermit Davis for a reason: to win games of this magnitude.
His team continued to scratch and claw its way to a three-point lead with 33 seconds to go, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot. But it would quickly go downhill from there, as Ole Miss failed to score another point after a pair of Hinson free throws.
After Breein Tyree missed the first of a one-and-one, Grant Williams, an SEC Player of the Year candidate, bullied his way down low, making a layup with three seconds and giving Ole Miss a shot at a win.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, they wouldn’t have the chance to take a game-winning shot, as Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield drew a charge when Shuler pulled up for the game winner, giving Tennessee possession and ending the game.
“Obviously, (Schofield) made a great play,” Kermit Davis said. “We’ll look at the tape and see what happened.”
In a game with questionable officiating on both sides, Ole Miss fans showed their displeasure with the referees by throwing items onto the court following the game.
“I shouldn’t have thrown my jacket like I did,” Kermit Davis said. “I think that probably enticed the crowd a little bit, so I apologize for that.”
Ole Miss falls to 19-9 (9-6) on the year after the loss. The Rebels will have to regroup quickly. They travel to Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks on Saturday.
“Everybody’s heartbroken in that locker room,” Kermit Davis said. “We’ve got to come back tomorrow, put it away and get ready for Arkansas on Saturday.”