Two of senior Laurence Bowers’ passes fell into the wrong hands and Ole Miss sharpshooter Marshall Henderson scored a game-high 27 as the third-seeded Rebels (24-8, 13-7 Southeastern Conference) battled back from a 13-point second-half deficit to knock sixth-seeded Missouri (23-9, 12-8 SEC) from the SEC tournament and advance to meet No. 10 seeded Vanderbilt in tomorrow’s semifinals.
“I know the NCAA tournament doesn’t start until next Thursday, but we just gave you a precursor,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said of his team’s drama-filled win. “That was an NCAA tournament game between two NCAA tournament teams. Missouri's an outstanding team and I thought early put us on our heels with their execution … but our guys continued to fight and continued to grind, which has been our mantra all year.”
Junior guard Phil Pressey drained a straightaway three with 48 seconds to play, but Derrick Millinghaus, stepping in for a concussed Jarvis Summers, answered with a trey of his own with 29.2 seconds left.
Then Bowers airmailed the ensuing inbounds pass and Henderson scooped it up, giving the Rebels 20.2 seconds and a chance at the last shot.
Millinghaus, who finished with 11 points and two steals, split a double team and floated a prayer over Tony Criswell that fell in with 1.1 seconds left.
“We actually drew a play up for Marshall at the timeout, but I seen I had a lane and I just went and just threw it up and hoped it went in,” Millinghaus said.
The bucket capped a 13-5 Rebel run to close out the game and Henderson pulled Bowers’ inbound out of logjam as time expired.
“They fronted our guys getting the ball inbounds and I think that surprised Laurence a little bit,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “You know, just a tough play.”
Missouri turned the ball over 16 times on the night and Ole Miss turned those into 16 points and matched the Tigers’ renowned front line of senior center Alex Oriakhi (16 points, nine rebounds) and Bowers with 32 points in the paint.
Missouri’s late-game woes continue with the loss that sends them back to Columbia awaiting what looks to be an 8 or 9 draw in the national tourney. As the Tigers descended into clock-management mode with a 10-point lead with 8:49 to play, Missouri went scoreless for the next 4:35 until Jabari Brown hit one of three free throws. The Tigers’ next field goal came on an Oriakhi stick-back with 2:21 to play.
“Defensively I thought we allowed them to get to the rim without rotation and taking charges. We go real passive on the defensive end,” Haith said. “Offensively, I think we go good shots, we just didn’t make them.”
From there, Bowers went over the back of Henderson, who hit both free throws, to tie the game at 59 and Pressey and Millinghaus traded threes before the Ole Miss freshman guard’s tear-drop but the Rebels ahead for good.
The game marks the second time bad blood has spilled in matchup between the teams. Once Henderson chucked his final-second interception into the air, several Tiger players skipped handshakes and marched to their locker room. Oriakhi ripped down curtains that protected a Nashville Predators mural on the walls of Bridgestone Arena. Rebel players rejoiced with coaches and cheerleaders and the teams exchanged pleasantries
During their Feb. 9 loss at Columbia, a skirmish broke out between the Rebels’ Reginald Buckner and the Tigers’ Oriakhi. In all, five technical fouls were handed out in the Missouri win and Buckner was ejected.
“We don’t expect them to shake hands,” Henderson said. “The walk-ons and Bowers did. Bowers shakes hands. Bowers is a good sport,” he said, before Kennedy cut in with, “It’s an emotional game.”
Florida and Alabama will tip in the early semifinal tomorrow at noon and Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt at 2:30 p.m.