PARRISH ALFORD: Top moments of 2013: Ole Miss

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

With the sand escaping rapidly from the 2013 hour glass and a bowl game still to be played, I never stopped to reflect on the year that was.

It won’t be remembered as the rebirth of football – that was 2012 – but it can be remembered for growth on the journey.

While football stokes the masses, 2013’s best highlights belonged to basketball.

10, Rebels sweep Bulldogs: Early rain in the Friday game between the rivals forced an old-time Saturday doubleheader. The Rebels won both and put themselves in position to win all three games but couldn’t hold a 6-0 lead on Sunday leaving themselves to ask “What might have been?”

Ole Miss finished 15-15 in SEC play. MSU finished 16-14 and was chosen to host a regional.

9, Pole Vault championship: Oxford native Sam Kendricks won an NCAA title, giving the Rebels their first pole vault championship with a jump of 18-8.25.

8, Rebels dominate Texas: Yes, the Longhorns were off to a slow start and had just fired their defensive coordinator. They still have Texas talent and went on to compete for the Big 12 championship. Ole Miss didn’t win just barely. The Rebels rushed for 272 yards in a 44-23 victory.

7, Henderson from halfcourt: Or just across it. Marshall Henderson’s deep heave at Vanderbilt got the Rebels to overtime where they outscored the Commodores and won 89-79. It was the first win for Ole Miss at Memorial Gym since 2001.

6, Ritter’s kick upends LSU: Needing a special night to avoid a fourth-straight loss after three-straight season-opening wins, Bo Wallace passed for 346 yards with no interceptions, and Andrew Ritter’s 41-yard field goal with 2 seconds left was the difference in a 27-24 victory. The Rebels played without five defensive starters, four because of injury and one because of suspension.

5, Twin bowl wins: The Compass Bowl on Jan. 5 will be remembered for the Rebels’ return to postseason after a 2-11 campaign the year before. It was a one-sided 38-17 win against Pittsburgh, a solid opponent, and an exclamation point to the Rebels’ late-season rise.

The Dec. 30 Music City Bowl helped Ole Miss distance itself from a disappointing finish to the regular season. The Rebels dropped back-to-back games – including the Egg Bowl – after a 3-0 start and an upset of LSU had expectations for many set higher than 7-5 through 12 games.

4, Jeff Scott’s run: Given the daunting September road schedule ahead, winning the season opener – against an SEC foe on the road no less – became extremely important.

How different would the season have been without Jeff Scott’s 75-yard touchdown dash with 1 minute, 7 seconds on the clock?

3, Beating the Badgers: Not only did the Rebels reach the NCAA basketball tournament, they knocked off a 5 seed in Wisconsin.

Ole Miss got physical play from its frontcourt, and Henderson hit big shots late as the Rebels won 57-46 leaving themselves one win away – one elusive win – from the Sweet 16.

2, Top 10 recruiting class: Signing Day generated a national buzz for the Rebels as Hugh Freeze landed a consensus top 10 class including the nation’s top recruit, Robert Nkemdiche.

Nkemdiche and many other freshmen contributed in key roles this season en route to postseason honors.

1, SEC Basketball Championship: The three-day run in Nashville with wins over Missouri, Vanderbilt and Florida delivered the school’s first SEC tourney title in 32 years.

It was most impressive by its point of origin. The title win was the Rebels’ fifth straight. Two weeks earlier they’d lost at struggling MSU, and coach Andy Kennedy was answered questions about his job security.

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal.