BATON ROUGE, La. (WCBI/AP) — Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy responded to one of the Rebels’ most deflating upset losses this season by incessantly reminding his players that if they pulled together, they could still capture an all-important top-four seed in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“I talked about it every day simply because it was something that was attainable to us. We didn’t need anyone else’s help,” Kennedy said. “We put ourselves in harm’s way. We realize that. But we can still control our own destiny when there’s opportunities.”
The Rebels responded as Kennedy hoped.
Marshall Henderson scored 22 points, Murphy Holloway added 16 and Ole Miss clinched a double-bye in the Southeastern Conference tournament with an 81-67 victory over LSU on Saturday.
The triumph in Baton Rouge came on the heels of an 87-83 home victory over Alabama and capped a confidence-building week that the Rebels needed after a stunning 73-67 loss at Mississippi State on March 2.
“Some days we look like one of the best teams in the SEC. Some days, we look like one of the worst,” Holloway said. “Today, we looked like one of the best.”
Jarvis Summers added 15 points and Nick Williams 11 for Ole Miss (23-8, 12-6), which will head to the league tournament in Nashville next week knowing it will play in Friday’s quarterfinal round.
Johnny O’Bryant III had 17 points and 12 rebounds for LSU (18-11, 9-9), which needed a victory to finish higher than the eighth seed and avoid a potential quarterfinal pairing with league-leading Florida. Andre Stringer scored 18 for the Tigers, who finished as the ninth seed, setting up a first-round bye and second-round matchup with No. 8 seed Georgia on Thursday afternoon.
“When you go into the conference tournament, anything can happen,” O’Bryant said. “It’s a whole new season, so we’re ready to put it in front of us. We’re going to be ready to play.”
LSU absorbed an early blow when Charles Carmouche, who had scored 20 or more in five of the previous six games, landed hard on his left hip when he was bumped by Holloway on a drive to the hoop. He returned after receiving treatment in the locker room, but finished with only eight points.
“I don’t know if I came in and slowed the team down a little bit because of my own injury,” Carmouche said.
Ole Miss led by as many as 19 after a 14-4 run that included a pair of inside baskets by Terry Brutus and Henderson’s 3. LaDarius White’s free throw closed out the surge, making it 60-41 with 11:24 to go.
After that, LSU coach Johnny Jones lamented, “We just couldn’t recover against a really good team.”
“You have a setback, and if you’re going to have it at this time of year you’d much rather have it now than in your next game,” Jones added. “It gives us an opportunity to go back to the drawing board.”
LSU managed several mini-runs, pulling to 64-54 with 6:22 left after Stringer’s consecutive driving floaters.
The Tigers were still within 10 with about five minutes to go, and the Pete Maravich Assembly Center crowd was beginning to come alive again in hopes of inspiring one last push. Then Henderson silenced them with a 3 from up top, and the Tigers never threatened again.
“That’s what he can do to you,” Holloway said of Henderson, Ole Miss’ leading scorer this season. “I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Ole Miss’ finished shooting 52.5 percent (31 of 59), compared to 41.1 percent (23 of 56) for LSU. The Rebels also outrebounded the Tigers 37-31, and the Rebels came away satisfied with what was among their most steady and composed performances on the road this season, particularly down the stretch.
“Coach just told us, ‘We withstood their best run at the beginning. Now it’s time to grind it out, make them guard and we have to guard,'” Holloway said. “We did, and we kept executing.”
Carmouche missed 10 minutes of the first half, during which he scored only two points and the Tigers turned the ball over seven times. LSU also struggled to slow down Ole Miss, which shot 54.3 percent (19 of 35) through the opening 20 minutes.
“We tried to execute while he was away, but we let some of their guys get open,” Stringer said of Carmouche’s absence. “Holloway got going and I lost Henderson a couple times. Against a team like that, you can’t do that.”
Holloway nearly reached his season average of 14.6 points in the first half when his dunk shortly before the horn gave him 14 and gave the Rebels their largest lead to that point at 43-30. Williams hit his first four shots, including one 3, and had nine points by halftime.
A key stretch came after O’Bryant’s basket inside had given LSU an early 21-13 lead. Over the next 6:09, Ole Miss responded with a 19-2 run, with Holloway scoring three times – twice on dunks – and Henderson adding a 3. Summers capped the spurt with a jumper that made it 32-23 with 4:53 to go in the period.