On the first day of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, the Ole Miss Rebels and LSU Tigers saw their seasons end.
Ole Miss had the first game of the day, and it fell to Xavier 76-57. The Musketeers started the game on an 11-3 run, and the Rebels could never gain enough momentum to overcome that early lead. They cut the deficit to four at 21-17 with 9:36 to go in the first half, but Xavier answered with a 10-2 run that put them in control of the game for the rest of the way.
Ole Miss was never going to have a great chance to win with as poorly as it shot. Stefan Moody was 5/18, Martavious Newby was 3/12, and Jarvis Summers closed out his career in Oxford with an 0/8 day. The team shot 32.9% collectively, while the Musketeers shot 46.4%. The Rebels had no answer for Matt Stainbrook, who had 20 points on a 8/10 shooting performance to go along with nine rebounds and five assists. Dee Davis put in 17 for Xavier, while James Farr has six points and 13 rebounds.
It was a disappointing way to close out the year, but it wasn't a disappointing year by any stretch for Ole Miss basketball. Two tournaments in three years is real improvement, and the program is headed in the right direction.
LSU, meanwhile, suffered tremendous heartbreak in its 66-65 loss to NC State.
The game was close at first, but a 10-2 run beginning at the 8:32 mark in the first half broke the game open for the Tigers. It continued the rest of the half as the LSU outscored NCSU 19-6 over that final eight-and-a-half minutes to take a 40-26 halftime lead. As late as the 9:15 mark in the second half, the Tigers has another 14-point lead and looked in charge.
That particular 14-point lead was 62-48, and you can tell from the final score that things didn't go well for the Tigers from there. Jared Martin made two free throws at the 5:00 mark, and Tim Quarterman made another with 3:59 to go. That would be it for LSU scoring. NC State worked its way back into it as LSU missed its last 18 combined shots from the field and from the line, but it wasn't until Beejay Anya made an awkward left hook that nearly rimmed out with just seconds to go that the Wolfpack got its first lead since 8-7 early on in the game.
Martin and Jordan Mickey each had double-doubles with the former getting 16 and 11 and the latter getting 12 and 14. Mickey had an off shooting night, making just 4/13 though. Quarterman led the team with 17 points while also grabbing nine boards and dishing seven assists. Anthony Barber tied Quarterman for game-high in points, while LSU's defense did well in holding Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner to 4/14 and 4/15 shooting, respectively.
Ultimately, the game was a microcosm of LSU's entire season. There were stretches of brilliance early on with a failure of execution down the stretch. The talent on the team was on display throughout, but the whole seemed less than the sum of its parts.
The Tigers will be back stronger next year with some elite recruits coming in, and this year still was an improvement over recent ones. Neither of those facts makes this campaign feel less like a missed opportunity.