Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sanders Shot at Buzzer Tops Tigers

Ole Miss guard Clarence Sanders didn’t have a girlfriend going into the Rebels’ game with LSU on Valentine’s night, but after the senior guard hit a dramatic last-second shot to give the Rebels a 71-70 win, that could quickly change.Sanders single-handily led the Rebels past the Tigers Wednesday by scoring a season-high 29 points on a 11 of 19 shooting night, including a sizzling 7-for-13 from behind the 3-point arc. While Sanders had several memorable shots in the come-from-behind win, the one that pleased the announced crowd of 7,368 fans at C.M. “Tad” Smith Coliseum the most was his off balance, fall-away jumper with under a second left that put the Rebels up for good.Steal sets up Sanders’ shotAfter Rebel reserve guard Brian Smith got a steal with six seconds left in the contest, point guard Todd Abernethy found Sanders in the corner, and the senior from Phenix City, Ala., hit the shot that sent the crowd into a raucous frenzy that was very reminiscent of their win over Alabama on Saturday.“He won the game for us, it’s as easy as that,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said about Sanders’ game Wednesday. “Cla was obviously on top of his game offensively. He didn’t do anything else tonight. He didn’t get a rebound or play great defense, but he made every shot he needed to. We were flat out there as a team, but I said ‘O.K., Cla you’re obviously into it, go win the game.’ And he did.”Sanders’ shot lifted the Rebels to 17-8 overall and an even more important 6-5 in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers, who are now 1-6 in games decided by four points or less this year, fell to 14-11 and 3-8 just one year removed from a Final Four appearance.“To me, it was just another game that we won. We’re doing big things, we’re No. 1 in the West, but we have five more games left, and we’re just trying to stay hungry and win them all,” Sanders said. “I knew I hit (shot) when I let it go because it was almost an open shot. (LSU) came at me real late, so it was an open shot. I just had to hit it. I felt great tonight. I went home and got two hours of sleep before the game. I do that before every game, but there was just something about this game. I was just on.”Thankfully for the Rebels Sanders was so dominant because they were on the losing end of almost every major statistical category. LSU outshot Ole Miss 60.9 percent to 45.3 percent. The Tigers had 14 more rebounds (37 to 23) than the Rebels and seven blocks compared to none for Ole Miss. Fewer turnovers helps RebsBut the things Ole Miss has done well at all year like not turning the ball over and getting key steals in key situations continued against LSU, while the things that the Tigers don’t do well like finishing games continued to hurt them down the stretch.“We don’t have to have our A game to win games now. I think we have shown that the last two games against two pretty good teams,” Kennedy said. “We knew LSU was a wounded animal coming in here, and you don’t want to mess with a wounded animal. I don’t know if we matched their intensity, and I know for sure that we didn’t match their execution. We were fortunate, but that’s what you have to do to get a run like this, and I think that speaks to what we have evolved to.”LSU coach John Brady was as frustrated as he has ever been this year after the loss. Looking down at the stat sheet during his time with the media after the game, Brady went into an honest, no-holds bar assessment of how his team loses games.“I’ve said this last year, and I’m saying it again this year, the difference in a significant season and an O.K. season is the ability to win close games. We won on of these this Saturday, and we had this one done, but it was a gift. We gave them this game,” Brady said. “We outplayed them all over the floor except for the last three seconds. It was done. We went out and ran the inbounds play for Glen Davis to have the ball, and why he threw it back to Garrett Temple, I have no idea. Why we just didn’t dribble the ball up (the floor), I have no idea. I feel for our team, they did everything they were supposed to do.”Davis, who strained his quadricep muscle in the win over Arkansas, was a force inside for the Tigers. He scored a team-high 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the loss, but his bad pass that was intercepted by Smith proved to be the difference in the game. Ole Miss led 39-36 at the half, and while the Rebels led most of the game, the Tigers wrestled the lead away from them with an impressive second half run. Both teams traded leads in the final 20 minutes, but the Tigers really gained an advantage at the 8:13 mark when Davis scored deep in the paint. Davis’ basket put LSU up 59-57, and the Tigers then went up by as much as five points (67-62) on a layup by Darnell Lazare, who finished with a career-high 22 points.Ole Miss stopped the Tigers’ momentum by scoring five straight points. Abernethy, who was the only other Rebel in double figures with 11 points, hit a key jumper during the run, while a steal by Abernethy led to a dunk by Sanders with 1:34 left in the game that tied it 67. Davis put LSU back on top with an inside bucket at the 1:07 mark, while Tasmin Mitchell added to the lead with a free throw with 34 seconds left. Bam Doyne missed a 3-pointer to tie the game with 15 seconds left, but Kenny Williams followed his missed shot with a follow-up dunk that cut the lead to one (70-69). Davis then had his passing miscue nine seconds later to set up Sanders’ dramatic finish.Mitchell finished with 11 points for the Tigers, who will host Mississippi State Saturday.Ole Miss will take another step toward winning the West Saturday when it travels to Arkansas.

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