OXFORD — The Pavilion was as vibrant and packed as it had been at any point this season.
Ole Miss fans waved their red pom-poms in unison and had hopes of watching their Rebels clinch an NIT semifinals bid in the arena’s first-ever postseason men’s basketball game.
“Maybe one of the best atmospheres we played in all year long,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “It was loud. … It was a great, great environment.”
The excitement from those 9,091 fans turned into disappoint as the final buzzer sounded, though, and the sixth-seeded Yellow Jackets walked out of The Pavilion with 74-66 NIT quarterfinals victory, which put an end to Ole Miss’ season.
Georgia Tech (20-15), which shot 51.9 percent, led the Rebels (22-14) by as many as 15 points and did not trail at any point of the game, which forced Ole Miss into an uphill battle. The Rebels got to within four points on multiple occasions in the final minutes, but the Yellow Jackets came up with stops and buckets whenever they needed them.
“We had opportunities, we had that thing down to four,” coach Andy Kennedy said. “We missed a couple of point-blank looks and at the end it was disappointing we couldn’t get a shot and turned it over a couple times down the stretch.”
Ole Miss’ season has lacked a rhythm and its players have been inconsistent. The final two games were kind of a representation of that. The Rebels beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome where Duke, Florida State and Virginia have fallen this season then fell at home to a Georgia Tech squad that won two road games all season.
Ole Miss shot 46.3 percent against the Orange, but shot just 21.4 percent against Georgia Tech. Deandre Burnett shot 52 percent from the field since the end of the regular season, but went 2-of-15 against the Yellow Jackets and finished with five points.
Terence Davis scored 15 points. Meanwhile, Sebastian Saiz, who became the seventh player in SEC history to finish with 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 blocks, finished his collegiate career with one final double-double of 19 points and 15 rebounds.
“He has maximized his college experience, he’s what it’s all about,” Kennedy said. “And I couldn’t be more pleased. His loss will be felt, but I’m proud to see the man he leaves here being.”
But at the end of the day, Josh Okogie’s 26 points and Ben Lamers’ 20 points and eight blocked shots were too much to overcome for Ole Miss, which is now staring the offseason in the face.
“The finality is hard in this business because we all get caught up in a six and seven month routine then it ends,” Kennedy said. “Again, it’s hard for me because I’m disappointed that we didn’t play better. Georgia Tech, give them credit. I thought they took the fight to us and made the plays they needed to advance.”