By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss players have been here before, and it’s still not where they want to be.
But as the reality settled in Sunday that another NCAA tournament would begin without the Rebels, they began to focus on the next step – the NIT.
No. 2 seed Ole Miss will face No. 7 seed Illinois State on Wednesday night at 8:30 in a game televised by ESPNU.
“There are 32 teams in the NIT, and all 32 wanted to be in the NCAAs,” senior forward Terrance Henry said. “We’ve got to man up and accept our postseason. It’s still postseason, and we’re one of the few teams still playing, so we’re happy to keep playing.”
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy says his team’s lack of resume-building wins kept them out of the NCAA tournament. While the numbers were competitive in other areas, the Rebels were 1-7 against teams rated in the RPI top 50.
Kennedy believes the Rebels (20-13) were perhaps one marquee win away from playing in the more desirable tournament. Are there some games they’d like to have back?
“Lots of them, but we can’t dwell on what we didn’t do. We have to move forward,” junior guard Nick Williams said.
Williams watched the NCAA selection show Sunday with only lukewarm interest.
“I watched some of it, not all of it. I’m disappointed we didn’t get in, but there’s not too much we can do about it. We look forward to Wednesday. We want to win that game and keep playing.”
It will be the third-straight NIT appearance for Henry, the Rebels’ leading scorer at 12.2 points a game.
His freshman season was the winter and spring of 2009, the season in which Chris Warren tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in December and missed the SEC season.
The Rebels finished 16-15 overall, 7-9 in the SEC and failed to advance past the SEC tournament.
Henry was a sophomore and averaged 17.1 minutes off the bench when the Rebels defeated Troy, Memphis and Texas Tech – the latter in two overtimes – to reach the NIT semifinals in New York two years ago.
Henry was a starter, and Williams played 24 minutes off the bench when the Rebels lost 77-74 at Cal last year in the NIT first round. It’s the only time under Kennedy that the Rebels failed to advance past the opener. In three previous NIT appearances they’d been at home, as they are this time.
Ole Miss is guaranteed at least two home games and will be home for the NYC “go game,” if they match up with anyone other than No. 1 seed Arizona.
“This is not what everybody wanted, but there’s still basketball to play,” Henry said. “We want to take the last few days of our season and let that carry over to the NIT.”