Rebels beat South Carolina in SEC Tournament opener

Published 9:48 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ole Miss is a long shot to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week, but it’s not ready to go into the offseason and a new era just yet.

Freshman backup Amaree Abram scored 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting, Jaemyn Brakefield scored 16 points and Ole Miss beat South Carolina 67-61 on Wednesday night in an opening round game of the SEC Tournament.

“We always talk about happy locker rooms. It’s been obviously a very, very tough season for us, losing a lot of close games. But I’d just like to take my hat off to my team and say, Hey, I’m very, very proud of you guys, I love you guys, and let’s keep moving forward,” said Ole Miss interim head coach Win Case.

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Case took over when Kermit Davis was fired on Feb. 24. Reports circulated before Wednesday’s game that Ole Miss is close to hiring former Texas coach Chris Beard as Davis’ full-time successor.

James White added 10 points and gathered 10 rebounds for Ole Miss, which had a 41-31 rebounding advantage. The Rebels made 25 of 59 shot attempts (42.4 percent) including 9 of 22 (40.9 percent) from 3-point range.

Greg Jackson II scored 24 points for the Gamecocks, Meechie Johnson scored 13 and Hayden Brown 11.

As the 13th seed, Ole Miss (12-20) advances to face No. 5-seed and 17th-ranked Tennessee Thursday at 2:30 p.m. South Carolina (11-21) ended its season having lost seven of its last 10.

Ole Miss had lost six of its previous seven games entering the tournament.

“I’d just say we came in here with a clean slate,” Brakefield said. “We knew it was going to be a new season. The past was the past. We’re just trying to come here 0-0 and just take each game at its own, and really just come here.”

Jackson’s layup with 10:27 left gave South Carolina its lone lead of the second half, at 46-44, before Abram made a 3-pointer 27 seconds later and Ole Miss stayed ahead for the remainder. Abram bookended his first 3-pointer with another with 6 minutes to go to cap a 12-2 run.

Abram had his second-highest point total of the season, behind a 26-point effort against Stanford in November. This was only the eighth time in 32 games that he has reached double figures. He only played four minutes in the Rebels’ previous game, an 82-77 loss to Missouri on March 4.

“The last game that we played, (Abram) didn’t play in the second half. He just seemed out of it. So we met a day or so ago and just talked about every single thing and going forward what he needs to do for this team,” Case said. “We know that he can put the ball in the basket. Y’all saw that tonight. Earlier in the year, he was just a man amongst boys. We knew if he’s locked in, he’s going to have a performance like that, and he did.”

Abram made consecutive 3s and followed with a jumpshot as the Rebels extended their lead to 61-52 with 4:17 left before a 9-3 outburst by South Carolina reduced its deficit to 64-61 with 1:03 to go.

Following a South Carolina timeout, the Rebels’ Matthew Murrell missed a 3-point attempt but White grabbed the offensive rebound and Ole Miss called a timeout with 18 seconds left. White then hit a jump shot for a 66-61 advantage with 11 seconds remaining to seal it.

“We knew again that James White is always wanting us to run something for him. He’s probably one of our best one-on-one players on the team. We drew that up. We thought if he didn’t make the shot, he was going to get fouled and be determined to try to basically lift us up that way,” Case said.

• Ole Miss vs. Tennessee
• Thursday, 2:30 p.m.
• SEC Tournament, second round
• TV: SEC Network; Radio: 107.7 FM