Short-Handed Rebels Fall in NIT
Published 1:00 pm Monday, March 22, 2021
FRISCO, Texas – With only eight scholarship players available, including two starters, the Ole Miss men’s basketball team fought and even took a lead into halftime. However, the Rebels (16-12) ran out of gas as Louisiana Tech battled back to advance to the NIT quarterfinals with a 70-61 victory Friday night.
Both teams finished 22 of 54 (40.7 percent) from the floor, but the Bulldogs (22-7) found most of their success from the line by making 22 of 29 free throws. Conference USA Freshman of the Year Kenneth Lofton Jr. led Louisiana Tech with 22 points.
Rodriguez drove to the bucket to get the Rebels on the board first before Louisiana Tech took control. The Bulldogs built a double-digit lead, 18-8, as Romello White had to head to the bench with two fouls. However, Ole Miss battled back beginning with a Sammy Hunter baseline jumper. Antavion Collum followed with a three from the wing before Austin Crowley stole the ball and slammed it home on the other end. Joiner scored his first points of the game by getting to the hole, and after Louisiana Tech answered with a Lofton bucket down low, Joiner drilled a three from the top of the key to tie the game at 20-20.
A Rodriguez putback gave Ole Miss its first lead since the opening minute, 23-22, with 4:22 left in the opening half. The sophomore scored eight straight points for the Rebels, and after Matthew Murrell converted an old-fashioned three-point lay, the cushion grew to seven. The Ole Miss advantage remained that way until another three by Joiner beat the buzzer and sent the Rebels into the locker room up double digits, 37-27. With a 29-9 run and over the final 11 minutes of the first half, Ole Miss turned a 10-point deficit into a 10-point lead.
The Rebels shot 50 percent (14 of 28) in the opening 20 minutes, including 4 of 6 from beyond the arc. Joiner (11) and Rodriguez (10) reached double figures in the first half, while Murrell had seven points as well.
Similar to the start of the game, Louisiana Tech took control coming out of the break. A 22-4 spurt erased the Ole Miss lead and put the Bulldogs in front 49-41. White broke the momentum with a finish in the post plus the free throw. Louisiana Tech answered with a three on the other end before Hunter a three of his own. The sophomore added an offensive putback to make it a one possession game, 52-49.
The Rebels could not get any closer the rest of the game. Louisiana Tech got to the free throw line and knocked them down in the closing minutes to secure the win.
- Ole Miss ends its season at 16-12 with its 22nd postseason appearance; the Rebels also finished 10-8 in SEC play, good enough for sixth place to exceed the media’s preseason prediction of ninth.
- Jarkel Joiner scored a team-high 22 points for his fifth 20-point game of the season.
- Luis Rodriguez recorded his second double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
- Sammy Hunter and Matthew Murrell recorded career highs in rebounds with seven apiece.
- Ole Miss was without First Team All-SEC guard Devontae Shuler (family reasons); it was Shuler’s first missed game of his career (124) and the Rebels’ first game without the Irmo, South Carolina native since the 2017 NIT Quarterfinals (March 21, 2017) before he arrived on campus.
- Without two of their regular starters, the Rebels had their eighth different starting lineup of the season; Murrell made his third career start.