By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – As one overtime passed to another at Tad Smith Coliseum on Tuesday night, I faced those conflicting emotions that collide between a college basketball purist, who likes the idea of participating in something of historical significance, and the sports writer who faces the demands of deadline writing.
Translation: The way Ole Miss and Texas Tech were going at it, I’d have been fine with sitting through a few more overtimes, had I been a ticket-buying fan who could go home when it was over.
As it was, two overtimes were enough – barely enough – for Ole Miss to pull off a 90-87 win and advance to the NIT Final Four in New York for the second time in three years.
The buzz word around the Rebels was “resiliency,” a fitting description for a team that has shown a knack for the dramatic comeback all year long.
Texas Tech coach Pat Knight summed it up this way: “Both teams were proud to be in the NIT.”
That was especially true for Knight’s team, which lost its last seven regular season games and needed a Big 12 tournament win to play it’s way into the little tournament, not the big one.
It took Ole Miss longer to embrace NIT pride. Not much longer. The Rebels handled their disappointment for the most part in practices leading up to last Wednesday’s opener against Troy, but Ole Miss was in the NCAA discussion far longer than Texas Tech.
Both teams did play with pride in Tuesday’s quarterfinal. Pride shows itself with effort, and effort most often shows itself on the defensive end.
The Rebels won in spite of shooting only 39.5 percent. They won while shooting just 25.9 percent from 3-point range and – for the first 40 minutes – just 8-for-17 from the free throw line.
Ole Miss was able to get its better shooters to the line and hit 11-of-14 free throws in the overtime periods. Had that not happened a tremendous defensive effort would have been wasted.
Murphy Holloway, Reggie Buckner and Terrance Henry contested every shot in the post, and when the Rebels were in the press they got hands in the passing lanes to force missed shots and turnovers. Tech had 18 turnovers in the game, 10 of them in the two overtime periods.
The defensive effort off-set the offensive disappearance of Terrico White, who averaged 24 points over the first two NIT games when he was 6-for-9 from 3-point range.
Against Tech, he hit only three of his first 14 shots. His undeniable athleticism is the reason White stays in the game. He can go off at any time, and he hit four of his last seven shots, including the leaner with 25.5 seconds left to force the first overtime.
White’s struggles were magnified as the game wore on, because Chris Warren, who went 4-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half, wasn’t getting the same looks. That threw off his rhythm, and when he did get some clean looks late he was off the mark.
Ole Miss needs Terrico White to beat good teams, and if the White that arrived for the first two NIT games shows up in New York, the Rebels could win the whole thing.
The NIT pride has kicked in, and while the big shot-makers may leave them for a time, the resiliency, it appears, will not.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.