By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – For Ole Miss, the return of freshman forward Reggie Buckner in the post wasn’t enough to offset the presence of Vanderbilt’s A.J. Ogilvy.
The Commodores’ center scored 27 points to lead No. 17 Vanderbilt to an 82-78 SEC win before a crowd of 6,651 at Tad Smith Coliseum Thursday evening.
The loss is the fourth in five games for the Rebels, a team once ranked No. 14, as the screws keep tightening on NCAA tournament chances.
“We’re tired of saying ‘Go get the next game,’ ” Ole Miss center Murphy Holloway said. “In a minute, it’s going to run out.”
Vanderbilt represented a prime opportunity to defeat an opponent with a strong RPI, but the Commodores (20-5, 9-2 SEC) were at ease at the free throw line even while Ole Miss (17-8, 5-6 SEC) scored eight points in the last 42.9 seconds in a frantic comeback.
“I understand the importance of this game. I’m terribly disappointed that we did not take advantage of this opportunity. I’m terribly disappointed that we lost for the third time in this building. I’m the head coach, and I take full responsibility,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
Playing for the first time since sustaining a sprained ankle at Auburn on Jan. 28, Buckner was active, showing no effects of the injury till tweaking it early in the second half. Kennedy thought Buckner was less effective after that. He finished with four points and four rebounds in 13 minutes.
At peak performance neither Buckner nor any other Ole Miss player successfully slowed Ogilvy, who was 8-for-10 from the floor and 11-for-13 from the free throw line.
Vanderbilt was 21-for-28 from the free throw line in the second half, hitting 12 straight until forward Steve Tchiengang missed twice with 1:16 to play. Ogilvy got the rebound after the second miss, however, and Vanderbilt got two free throws from Jermaine Beale out of the possession to go up 75-68 with 54.7 seconds to play.
“We talked in the locker room about having to win the game in the paint. A.J., was terrific from start to finish. He dominated the paint,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
The unsuccessful strategy for Kennedy was not to guard Ogilvy, necessarily, but not to let him catch it.
“We knew we couldn’t let him get deep touches, because then he goes to work, and they also have shooters,” Kennedy said.
It was not a perimeter shooter but the athletic Jeffrey Taylor, who also hurt Ole Miss with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
The Rebels hit five of their first seven shots, including their first four 3-pointers.
Ole Miss built a 16-5 lead but was outscored 25-12 over the remainder of the half and trailed 30-28 at the break.
Ole Miss got early scoring from Terrico White and Chris Warren, but White went to the bench after picking up his second foul early.
Warren led Ole Miss with 23 points, and White added 14.
Whatever the Rebels accomplished offensively they often gave up with the inability to slow Ogilvy and their own inability to convert at the free throw line.
Holloway missed the front end of a one-and-one three times. Ole Miss was 10-for-18 at the line, while Vanderbilt was 26-for-34.
With Ole Miss trailing by six with 31.6 seconds left, Eniel Polynice missed at the free throw line twice.
“It’s the same story. We get doubled up on the free throw line at home,” Kennedy said. “When you have opportunities at the line you have to cash in.”