OXFORD — Eighteen minutes remained. Auburn led Ole Miss by 23 points. Everything Auburn was throwing at the basket, from seemingly anywhere in The Pavilion, seemed to swish the nets.
The Ole Miss crowd was quiet. Andy Kennedy can’t get any more bald, which was the only reason he wasn’t losing more hair.
Here’s how gosh-awful things were for the Rebels. Kennedy didn’t start sophomore guard Terence Davis, the Rebels’ most dynamic open floor player, to try and keep him out of foul trouble, which has been a problem. But when Davis entered the game early, he picked up two quick fouls and was scoreless in the first half in only four minutes of playing time. Furthermore, he picked up a third foul early in the second half and still hadn’t scored with the Rebels down 23. If Kennedy had any hair, he’d surely would have pulled it out then.
But, no, Kennedy didn’t take Davis out even when he picked up the third foul.
“When you’re down that much, you throw caution to the wind,” Kennedy would say.
Ole Miss threw caution to the wind and, in turn, threw Auburn for a loop. The Rebels matched a school record by coming from 23 back to win 90-84 before an announced crowd of 8,280, who if they were honest surely would tell you they were surprised by the remarkable turn of events. It was the largest home comeback in the 109-year history of Ole Miss basketball. The only other time Ole Miss came from so many behind was on the road against Alabama in 2010.
Davis, who never came out of the game in the second half, never picked up his fourth foul. He did, however score 26 points over the last 17 minutes, 14 seconds with a series of dazzling, acrobatic drives to the bucket. He made 11 of 13 shots and the only two he missed were the only two he took from outside the lane.
Meanwhile, Auburn, which hit 8 of 13 3-pointers in the first half, missed 12 of 17 in the second half.
And while Ole Miss was celebrating an all-time comeback, Auburn’s Bruce Pearl was lamenting “the worst loss I’ve had in my two and a half years at Auburn.”
Pearl seemed somewhat shell-shocked afterward. Auburn came in at 16-8 and had won two straight, three of its last four and five of its last seven.
“We were hot,” Pearl said. Auburn was hot, coming in, and the Tigers were sizzling in the first half. They made shots from all around the perimeter and sometimes from three or four feet beyond the 3-point line.
“They probably guarded us better in the second half,” Pearl would say. “They played hard. They deserved to win. They out-played us, out-rebounded us. They did a good job.”
So, an enterprising sports writer, looking for “a win one for the Gipper” story, asked Kennedy what he told his team at halftime.
“That stuff’s over-rated,” Kennedy deadpanned. “Besides, unless you are on Cinemax, you couldn’t use it anyway.”
So, somebody asked Cullen Neal, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half, what Kennedy said at halftime.
“A.K. knows how to light a fire under us,” Neal said. “He knows how to add fuel to the fire. Obviously, he did a good job of it.”
The guess here is Kennedy told his guys that they were getting their “bleeping” brains beat out, that they were being “bleeping” embarrassed at home. And that, should they have the opportunity, they might want to occasionally put a “bleeping” hand in the face of Auburn shooters and see if they still could still make all those long, “bleeping” shots.
Turns out, they couldn’t make them nearly enough when guarded.
So, what does the comeback victory mean?
It means the Rebels are 15-10 and 6-6 with six regular season games remaining to be played, which sounds so much better than 14-11 and 5-7, which is where they seemed headed.
And it means Rebel fans saw something that had never happened before in a basketball game at Ole Miss in 109 years of basketball at Ole Miss. That’s all.
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