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March 14, 2012

McCready: Missing ingredients doom Rebels again

OXFORD, Miss. -- Illinois State made a Tad Smith Coliseum-record 17 3-pointers Wednesday night.

The Redbirds had led by double-digits with just three minutes to go, but Ole Miss forced overtime.

Illinois State led by six in the extra session with 2:26 left, but Ole Miss found itself with the basketball and a chance to tie or win with 10 seconds remaining.

The Rebels never got that final shot. Instead, Nick Williams' cross-court pass to LaDarius White sailed into the second row of seats, killing Ole Miss' hopes of a trip to New York and ending the season with a 96-93 first-round NIT loss.

Wednesday's game was apropos, really. All season, Ole Miss has been close. Throughout the year, the Rebels appeared left for dead, only to rally but come up short. There were moments when things seemed bright. Ole Miss had wins at home against Miami, at DePaul and at Penn State early and a five-game winning streak late, including two wins last weekend at the Southeastern Conference tournament in New Orleans.

Two elements, however, were almost always missing. It seems odd to say it on a night when the Rebels made 10 shots from the 3-point line and scored 93 points, but Ole Miss lacked offense. Just as importantly, the Rebels never consistently had focus.

"Focus wasn't there," Ole Miss' lone contributing senior, Terrance Henry, said. "Just focus. That's all it was. "It's frustrating. I've been dealing with that a lot over my career here. What can you say?"

Of course, focus _ or the lack thereof _ is such a vague, intangible thing. What Ole Miss missed most was a knock-down shooter or two who could score points in bunches. Wednesday night was a prime example. Freshman guard LaDarius White, who missed the first portion of the season due to Clearinghouse issues and then sat behind Jelan Kendrick for most of SEC play, kept Ole Miss in Wednesday's game with 25 points, including four 3-pointers.

"We've got to get a little offensive pop," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "We're down three guards, and two of those (Dundrecous Nelson and Kendrick) of three I thought going into this (season) would be 30-minute-a-game guys. …We've got to add some pieces. We added some early. We'll add some late."

Of the eight players who played at least 10 minutes Wednesday, only Henry is out of eligibility. Murphy Holloway, Reginald Buckner, Demarco Cox and Aaron Jones return in the frontcourt. Former Alabama forward Jason Carter, who committed to Ole Miss Tuesday, figures to add immediate depth, and signee Anthony Cortesia has drawn comparisons to Henry as a slasher, albeit one with a more consistent perimeter shot.

Jarvis Summers, White and Williams return in the backcourt. Signee Martavious Newby is being counted on to bring toughness and scoring, and recent commitment Marshall Henderson is averaging almost 20 points per game for the nation's No. 1-ranked junior college team.

"I have a bigger role now with (Henry) leaving," White said. "I'm just working on my game at all three (guard) positions. Wherever the coaches need me, I can go out and perform."

Sources close to the program have indicated Ole Miss isn't through recruiting. The Rebels want to add another point guard and will search high and low for any other prospect who could help immediately.

"If everybody does their job, we all can just go out there and just play how we play," White said.

White said he learned a lesson from his first season of college basketball, one that was full of drama, dismissals and _ in the end _ unfulfilled goals.

"The one thing I'll remember about this year is there were a lot of great things we did this year, but there's a lot that we failed," White said. "I'm just using it as motivation."

Now that it's over, that's all that's left.

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