- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - If Andy Kennedy had his way, Frank Martin wouldn’t be on the NCAA tournament selection committee.

No, if Kennedy had his druthers, Martin would be the emperor and the only vote that matters on Selection Sunday.

Kennedy’s Mississippi team defeated Martin’s South Carolina club, 75-70, on Saturday night at The Pavilion at Ole Miss, and afterward, Martin was on the campaign stump for the Rebels.

“I have no idea why no one is even mentioning Ole Miss as a team that has a chance to make the NCAA tournament,” Martin said. “I have no idea. If they played in any other league in the country, right now they’d be one of those teams spoken about being an NCAA tournament team. They’re good. Andy manages things unbelievable and his team is playing at a high level at the right time of the year.

“When I sit and watch some of these teams that are supposedly on the bubble right now and they’ve got one top-100 win, how’s Ole Miss not in that conversation? How can those teams be there and Ole Miss is not being spoken about as an NCAA tournament-caliber team. It’s disappointing and it aggravates me for two reasons - Andy Kennedy is a dear friend and I know how hard those kids work for him. It makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”

Ole Miss improved to 19-12 overall and 10-8 in the Southeastern Conference with Saturday’s win. The Rebels are now 5-12 against top-100 RPI teams.

“I love Frank, man,” Kennedy said. “Frank’s my brother. You help your brothers. The reality is our numbers don’t depict that we are an NCAA tournament team. But guess what? Our numbers aren’t complete. We still have an opportunity to improve upon those and my hope is that’s what we do when we get to Nashville (for next week’s SEC tournament).”

Saturday’s game marked the final home contest for Ole Miss senior Sebastian Saiz, and the 6-foot-9 forward from Madrid, Spain, made it a memorable night, scoring 21 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.

“It was my favorite game at Ole Miss,” Saiz said. “I’m not going to lie. I just loved it. It was emotional.”

“(Saiz) was tremendous,” Kennedy said. “What a great way for him to go out on Senior Night. He’s had a great career for us and I thought he was certainly the difference tonight.”

SEC player of the year candidate Sindarius Thornwell led South Carolina (22-9, 12-6).

Ole Miss led by as many as 20 points early in the second half before South Carolina (22-9, 12-6) came charging back. The Gamecocks got within four points before Cullen Neal knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Rebels some breathing room.

“We had no life,” Martin said. “It’s like our season ended (Tuesday) against Mississippi State. We were off from practice on Wednesday. Thursday wasn’t there and it wasn’t much better (Friday). We just had no life.”

South Carolina closed to within four points twice more in the final minutes as Ole Miss missed four of its final six free throws but the Gamecocks ultimately couldn’t close the gap further.

“We felt pretty good about it and we had a couple of chances where we could’ve cut it to two but it didn’t work out that way,” Thornwell said. “We tried to give ourselves a chance at the end of the game and that’s all we asked for - an opportunity at the end of the game to put ourselves in position to win.”

Ole Miss broke open a tight game and built an eight -point lead late in the first half, thanks to consecutive 3-pointers from senior guard Rasheed Brooks and a free throw from Saiz. The Rebels, courtesy of a baseline jumper from Tyree in the final seconds of the first half, led by 11 at intermission.

Freshman guard Breein Tyree added 19 points for Ole Miss. Justas Furmanavicius had 12 points and Neal added 11.

P.J. Dozier had 13 for South Carolina. Hassani Gravett and Duane Notice had 10 points each for the Gamecocks.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are likely headed to the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens next week at the SEC tournament. However, the loss at Ole Miss, while not a black mark, won’t help their seeding.

Ole Miss: The Rebels likely have no hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Saturday’s win probably helped their National Invitation Tournament resume.

BURNETT SITS

Ole Miss guard Deandre Burnett, who’s averaging 16.5 points per game, did not play on Saturday after complaining Friday of a sore knee. Kennedy said he planned to start Burnett until pregame on Saturday when he learned that the junior from Miami couldn’t go. Kennedy said he didn’t know if Burnett will be available next week at the SEC tournament.

NOT A TECHNICALITY

Ole Miss senior guard Rasheed Brooks picked up a technical foul in the first half for spiking the ball following a foul call on Neal. In the second half, Terence Davis fouled out with more than 13 minutes left after picking up his fourth foul and then saying something to an official, earning a technical which doubled as his fifth foul of the night. Davis, who was averaging 14.4 points per game, finished with just three points in 20 minutes.

UP NEXT

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have a bye until Friday in Nashville. South Carolina will face Alabama, LSU or Mississippi State in the SEC tournament quarterfinals.

Ole Miss: The Rebels will play the Auburn-Missouri winner on Thursday night in the SEC tournament in Nashville.


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