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Mississippi must rebuild after making second NCAA Tournament in 3 seasons

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The final 48 hours of Mississippi's basketball season provided a fitting end for an entertaining, yet inconsistent team.

The Rebels could certainly dazzle fans. That's exactly what happened when Ole Miss climbed out of a 17-point halftime hole by scoring 62 points in the second half to beat BYU 94-90 in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday.

Then there were moments when Ole Miss could look completely overmatched: Like Thursday's 76-57 season-ending loss to Xavier in the round of 64 in Jacksonville, Florida.

"Basketball is a game of rhythm: Establish yours, disrupt theirs," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said after Thursday's loss. "That's what Xavier did to us. They established theirs; they disrupted ours."

Kennedy talked about trying to shake that Jekyll-and-Hyde tendency all year, but it never quite happened. The Rebels mostly regressed during the season's final weeks, losing six of their final 10 games.

The stunning offensive eruption against BYU — which included 50 points in the final 15 minutes — was one final reminder of how good the Rebels could be.

PHOTO: Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy yells in the first half of a first round NCAA tournament game against Brigham Young Tuesday, March 17, 2015 in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)
Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy yells in the first half of a first round NCAA tournament game against Brigham Young Tuesday, March 17, 2015 in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)

Though the Xavier loss was anticlimactic, Ole Miss (21-13) continued its upward trajectory as a program. The Rebels advanced to the NCAA Tournament for a second time in three seasons and now look forward to moving into a brand new arena next season that will replace aging Tad Smith Coliseum.

Now Kennedy — who is the school's all-time leader in coaching wins with 192 over nine seasons — must replace a large chunk of his roster, including starters Jarvis Summers and M.J. Rhett and sixth-man LaDarius White.

Summers leaves Ole Miss as one of just four players in SEC history with at least 1,600 career points and 500 career assists. He struggled with his shot during his senior season — making just 33.1 percent of his attempts — but still led the Rebels with nearly five assists per game.

"Without Jarvis and without (White) and without (Aaron Jones) and without M.J. and without Terence (Smith), the five seniors who the journey ends tonight, you know, we're not here," Kennedy said. "We're not in the NCAA and we're certainly not in the position that we were to have the chance to advance. I'm proud of those guys and what they were able to accomplish."

Kennedy does have some talent returning, including leading scorer Stefan Moody.

The 5-foot-10 guard scored 16.6 points per game and had some clutch performances — including 26 points in the stunning comeback over win over BYU. The Rebels should also have some experience in the frontcourt with Sebastian Saiz, Dwight Coleby and Anthony Perez.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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