OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Andy Kennedy has said the biggest surprise of this season is this team's inability to make winning plays down the stretch. Ole Miss yet again put itself in a position to win the game -- fighting back from a nine-point halftime deficit -- but came up short down the stretch in a 75-69 loss to Missouri.
The Rebels are now 11-13 (4-7 SEC) while the Tigers have won three in a row and are 16-8 (6-5 SEC).
"We have been talking for over a month now about our awareness and how it has to get better," Kennedy said. "Unaware people are unsuccessful people. Our awareness has to be better."
The team's energy couldn't be faulted in the early stages of the game. Ole Miss jumped on Missouri 11-0 in the first four and a half minutes of the game, largely thanks to some transition buckets from Terence Davis. The Tigers settled in and pieced together a 30-9 run over the next 12 minutes of the opening half. Jontay Porter had 12 points and seven rebounds at the intermission for Mizzou.
Terence Davis had 12 first half points. Ole Miss struggled to find consistent scoring in its halfcourt offense behind Davis. The junior finished with 20 on the night. His teammates came to his assistance in the second half, however.
Bruce Stevens got a couple of easy baskets inside, and Markel Crawford got out in transition after a couple of Tiger turnovers. A 40-31 deficit was quickly erased when Ole Miss tied the game at 46.
Stevens finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Crawford had 11 points and six assists.
"Our guys don't quit," Kennedy said. "We fought back, fought back and got up two. We couldn't get a stop. We had a couple of ill-advised possessions."
The teams see-sawed back-and-forth for the next six minutes of game action. Neither team led by more than four points down the stretch. Ole Miss tied the game and then took a lead at 55-51. It put itself right back in the game with a puncher's chance to win.
But Robertson proved too much to handle for the Rebels. He had 19 second half points and 27 for the game to lead all scorers. Every time Ole Miss tied the game or drew within a point or two, Robertson seemed to have an answer. He immediately hit a three pointer from the top of the key after Ole Miss tied it at 46-46. He made another to give the Tigers a four-point cushion at 65-61 with three minutes to go. He kept Missouri afloat when Ole Miss was clawing back in the second half.
"The difference in the game was Kassius Robertson," Kennedy said. "That kid is playing like an all-league player. He just made a bunch of big plays for them, whether it be off the bounce, we had a hard time containing him. If we put our hands down, he shot it in."
The lead exchanged hands four times over the final seven minutes of the game as Ole Miss fought to end a now three-game skid. A Domink Olejniczak layup tied things up again at 67 apiece with 1:45 remaining on the clock. Missouri got five straight stops and sealed the game with eight consecutive free throws.
"We've just been all over the map," Kennedy said. "We have five guards that play the majority of the minutes and coming into tonight not one was shooting over 40 percent. We have got to become more efficient in the backcourt."
Part of that awareness Kennedy is referring to is shot selection, and down the stretch the Rebels took some tough shots. It's that particular area this team will need to improve on if it wants to be on the right side of these close games.
"It's awareness and effort," Davis said. "Getting on the floor for a loose ball and giving great effort."
To their credit, the Rebels have been in mostly every single game they've played this year. It's the crucial possessions as the final minutes melt off the clock that make for such a thin margin of error.
"We have to come through down the stretch," Kennedy said. "Our shot selection at the end, as opposed to playing through Bruce, was not good."
Ole Miss will try to get back on the right foot this Saturday against LSU in Baton Rouge.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," Kennedy said. "No one is feeling sorry for us. We have to pick ourselves back up."
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