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Rebels Drop A Heartbreaker to Mercer

Mercy. Not Mercer? But indeed, the defending regular season Atlantic Sun Conference champions came into Oxford and beat Ole Miss of the Southeastern Conference on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Joshua McCoy / Ole Miss Athletics
Photo courtesy of Joshua McCoy / Ole Miss Athletics

The Rebels, who lost 79-76, had fallen behind the talented and veteran Bears by as many as 16 points in the second half before rallying.

Ole Miss led 67-60 and proceeded to miss its next six shots, three of them layups. That gave the visitors from Macon, Ga., a chance to take the lead, and they did. Mercer led 68-67 with four and a half minutes left.

The game came down to this: With the Rebels trailing 76-73, Marshall Henderson nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game with 13 seconds left. Without any timeouts left, the Rebels played on.

Langston Hall of Mercer raced downcourt and answered from 21 feet to give the Bears the upset on the Rebels’ homecourt.

“Marshall hits the big 3, we’re back in a 2-3 zone,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “We kept them in front of us. Their kid just rolls up and knocks down a huge shot.”

Along with missing some easy shots during that stretch, it was rebounding that once again was the Rebels’ nemesis. Mercer had 39 boards to 35 for the Rebels. It was even on the offensive boards at 15, while defensively the Bears had the better of it 24-20.

The win was not unusual for Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman, whose team improved to 8-4. In his six years his teams now have wins over SEC teams Alabama (twice) and Auburn, and also wins against Georgia Tech, Florida State, and Seton Hall.

But he thought this one was special.

“It may have been our best win on the road since I’ve been here, to come back against a NCAA Tournament team after their rally,” Hoffman said.

While he and his Bears head back to Georgia for Christmas break, Kennedy and his troops must regroup and play a road game at Western Kentucky on Dec. 30.

Jarvis Summers led Ole Miss with 21 points, followed by Henderson with 18.

Ike Nwamu paced Mercer with 24 points.

Kennedy said the game came down to a matter of making plays.

“Mercer’s a good basketball team,” he said. “I told our team I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve played for and coached for three Hall of Fame coaches – Jim Valvano, Gene Bartow, and Bob Huggins. It always comes down to the same thing, wherever you go. Players make plays.

“At the end of the day when you’re in a competitive game such as tonight, the team that makes the most plays is typically going to win. Mercer made the most plays and deserved to win.”

However, Kennedy said the Rebels had them where they wanted them – finally.

“We were up 67-60 with about six minutes to play,” he said. “We had three layups and we miss them all. The next thing you look up and you’re down again. They were able to withstand it and made some hard shots. We put ourselves in a position where one play beats you, and that’s what happened.”

Kennedy said Ole Miss continuing to lose the battle of the boards will cost them again.

“That’s the third consecutive game we’ve been outrebounded. It’s ridiculous, honestly. We’ve done everything short of breaking out the football pads. That’s an area of major concern, and we’ll keep working.”

Kennedy, his team now 8-3, said Mercer being a well-disciplined team that was here on a mission to win the game was no surprise.

“They’re a team similar to Belmont or Butler. That group’s been together a long time. He (Hoffman) has built it. They had a really good year last year. We knew this was going to be a dangerous game, because they had upperclassmen.

“They expect to win. We couldn’t allow them to play at their pace, and early it was at their pace,” Kennedy continued. “They lead the nation in assists. We really struggled offensively early. We allowed them to get away from us. We came out with much better energy in the second half. Up 67-60, right there’s the game. It’s 67-60 and we had three layups and didn’t get it done. They made plays, and we didn’t.”

— Jeff Roberson, OMSpirit.com

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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