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OM Comes Up Short At State

Some losses are justifiable. Saturday against Mississippi State wasn’t one of those losses.

By: Ben Garrett, OMSpirit.com


Photo by Seph Anderson
Photo by Seph Anderson

Ole Miss has lost a lot in Starkville since the series began in 1914, Mississippi State entering the game with an all-time record of 91-24. However, there was no excuse for what happened today, the first Saturday of March, the month in which NCAA resumes are made or broken.

Ole Miss walked into Humphrey Coliseum with its NCAA tournament hopes, and possibly the future of its head coach, on the line. The Rebels were 12-point favorites. Mississippi State, with its RPI rank of No. 239 and having yet to reach double-digit wins for the season, had lost 13-straight games.

No matter. Final: Mississippi State 73, Ole Miss 67. Oof.

“They deserved to win,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said, “and we deserved to lose.”

I was in Oxford all day, sick and relegated to my couch. Ole Miss (21-8, 10-6 SEC) played easily its worst game of the season, and that’s saying something, considering the Rebels dropped a two-point loss to South Carolina, the second-worst team in the SEC, two weeks ago.

Mississippi State looked like the team fighting for the NCAA tournament. Ole Miss, again, was lethargic.

Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com wrote prior to the game that should Ole Miss lose to MSU, it was out of the tournament. Nothing you didn’t know already, but the projection confirmed where Ole Miss stood and what I’ve said before: Win out, or go home.

Well, turn off the lights, Ole Miss fans. The season is over. And honestly, I don’t see how Kennedy overcomes this, save for a miracle run in the SEC tournament, which isn’t likely. Ole Miss has never won more than two games in an SEC tournament trip in any season under Kennedy.

The NCAA tournament is inconsequential now. Focus now shifts to Kennedy, the beleaguered head coach, who despite being the winningest coach in Ole Miss history, has yet to reach the Big Dance in any of his seven seasons.

“I understand the frustration of the fans,” Kennedy said to reporters afterwards. “I feel the same frustration.”

Every head coach has his moment. To borrow from football, Ed Orgeron’s moment came when he went for it on fourth down, up a touchdown, in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State in the final game of what turned out to be his final season. Houston Nutt’s moment came in Nashville, Tenn., in 2011, when the Rebels were thumped by Vanderbilt. His team finished 2-10 that year and 0-8 in league games.

Could Saturday at Mississippi State (8-20, 3-13 SEC) have been Kennedy’s moment? Possibly. Sure felt that way, especially as every Marshall Henderson 3-point attempt clanked off the rim. He finished the game 3 of 18 from 3, by the way.

Yes, two games remain in the regular season, but Ole Miss hasn’t won a notable game on the road since January. Who really thinks this team is going to LSU in a week and getting a win? That’s what I thought.

Athletics director Ross Bjork will have plenty to weigh upon the conclusion of such a frustrating season. A good athletics director doesn’t make a call on a whim or with emotion. But what happened today had to be hard to watch for everyone, from fans to the A.D. to the casual observer.

Here’s an argument I’ve heard before: The cost of firing Kennedy would likely be somewhere in the ballpark of $10-11 million. As in, $1.3 million per-year salary over two years, plus the some $1.5-2 million per, four-year contract it would take to bring in another coach. Would Ole Miss, a school that traditionally has committed to basketball, be willing to take such a leap?

We dug around after Ole Miss lost at USC. Money, we were told, wouldn’t be a factor in the decision-making process. There you go.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to a new basketball arena. Ole Miss recently launched a revamped version of its Loyalty Foundation, simply titled the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation. There’s a $50 membership now, important because Ole Miss still isn’t close enough money-wise to break ground on the new arena. The school will take what it can get.

Why? There’s little or no momentum to raise what’s needed. Asking alumni and fans for money in the current environment is impossible.

Michael White is a hot name amongst Ole Miss fans, and for good reason. A former player, as well as assistant under Kennedy, he’s led Louisiana Tech to a 25-3 record and 15-0 mark in WAC play. He won’t be the first and only coach Bjork calls should he make a move, nor should he be. I’ve heard some names, but really, we won’t know more until next week at the earliest.

Because of what happened in Starkville today, we’re talking about the possibility of a coaching change now and not the NCAA tournament, a lack of momentum vs. excitement about the first Big Dance bid for Ole Miss in a decade.

A disaster on so many levels.

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