ATHENS — Mississippi hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 2002, and even with 20 wins the Rebels assumed they would be left out again next Sunday if they finished the year without a road conference victory.
The Rebels filled that void in their final regular season game.
Mississippi took control with a 10-0 second-half run and improved its case for an NCAA bid by beating Georgia 76-62 on Saturday to set up a rematch between the teams in the SEC tournament.
Ole Miss (21-9 overall, 7-9 Southeastern Conference) was 0-7 in road conference games before beating the Bulldogs.
“It feels great, our first win on the road — finally,” said guard David Huertas.
Forward Kenny Williams said taking a long-awaited SEC road win was more important than improving their overall wins total.
“That was the main thing, we knew we weren’t going to make it to the NCAA without a road win,” Williams said.
The win earned Ole Miss a rematch with Georgia in Thursday night’s first round of the SEC tournament in Atlanta.
“I hope tonight showed that we can be successful away from home,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. “Now the rest of our games will be at a neutral site, and we are 5-0 in neutral site games.”
Georgia (13-16, 4-12) finished last in the SEC East, losing 11 of its last 13, including five of its last six home games.
Chris Warren and Dwayne Curtis each scored 15 points to lead five Ole Miss scorers in double figures. Williams added 14 despite sitting out most of the second half with four fouls.
Jeremy Parnell, who played behind Williams, added 13 points, including 11 in the second half. Huertas had 10.
Terrance Woodbury led Georgia with 18 points. Billy Humphrey had 14 and senior Sundiatta Gaines added 13 despite making only 5 of 21 shots in his final home game.
Georgia made 5 of 15 3-pointers to remain close in the first half, but Warren had two 3s late in the half for Ole Miss, which led 35-32 at the break.
Georgia took a 48-41 lead with a 16-6 run to open the second half.
Williams scored back-to-back baskets for Ole Miss before picking up two fouls in a span of 20 seconds, forcing the senior out of the game with four fouls with 13:39 left to play. He did not return.
Before the two quick fouls, Williams already had six points in the half.
“I was hoping for a career high,” said Williams, a senior playing his final regular season game. Williams set his high with 16 points against Nicholls State in 2006.
The loss of Williams only seemed to inspire the Rebels, who made six straight free throws to start a 10-0 run for a 51-48 lead. The Rebels, led by Parnell’s big second half, kept the lead the rest of the game.
Even with Williams watching from the bench, Ole Miss continued to control the inside game.
Georgia sophomore center Albert Jackson, coming off his career-best 16 points in a win at Auburn on Wednesday, had only two points as the Bulldogs leaned on their outside shooters. Woodbury and Humphrey each made four 3-pointers.
“It certainly wasn’t by design by us,” said Georgia coach Dennis Felton of Jackson’s reduced role.
“They played a lot of zone against us. They did an awfully good job with their two forwards in the two-three zone in covering the low post.”
The disappointing finish to the season has left Felton’s future at Georgia in doubt. Georgia athletic director Damon Evans said this week he will review Felton’s situation after the season.
The frustration of Saturday’s loss, and the losing season, showed on the expressions of Gaines and others late in the game.
“Our team has been very good about keeping positive energy throughout the season,” Felton said. “I thought at the very end today we were a team that was frustrated because it got away from us and we weren’t going to win the game.”
Gaines said he was frustrated by his poor shooting in his final home game.
“I missed 12, 13 shots where I just missed it. It was wide open, right at the rim,” Gaines said. “That’s kind of disappointing because those are shots I make all the time.”
Georgia’s other senior, center Dave Bliss, had eight points and eight rebounds.
Gaines and Bliss were honored in a pregame ceremony. Bliss, who normally wears No. 44, wore No. 3 in honor of former teammate Kevin Brophy, who would have been a senior this season but was killed in an automobile accident in 2006.