In the midst of a thrilling double-digit comeback against Missouri late on Friday night in Nashville, Ole Miss could have panicked when heady point guard Jarvis Summers left the game late in the second half with a concussion.
But when Andy Kennedy looked down his bench he had complete confidence in a seldom used guard that received just four minutes in the first half of the 64-62 win. When Kennedy's staff looked to upgrade its roster in the weeks following last year's 20-14 season, his assistants wanted to add punch off the bench to complement Summers.
They found it in Derrick Millinghaus , a diminutive point guard, who is listed generously at 5-foot-10. Millinghaus took it to first-team All SEC guard Phil Pressey down the stretch, scoring nine points in the final six minutes to spur a furious rally. When the Tigers took away Marshall Henderson, the Rebels' first option on their final offensive possession, Millinghaus eluded Jabari Brown on a crossover and hit a game-winning 8-foot floater with 1.1 seconds left.
“I just wanted to win,” Millinghaus said. “We drew it up for Marshall but I saw I had the lane. I just went in, threw it up and hoped it went in.”
On a day when a number of bubble teams wilted down the stretch, the Rebels became emboldened by the pressure. Applying suffocating halfcourt defense to erase a 10-point deficit, Ole Miss held the Tigers (23-10) to two field goals over the game's final nine minutes.
“I know the NCAA tournament doesn't officially start until next (week) but we just gave you a precursor,” Kennedy said. “That was a first-round game between two NCAA tournament teams.”
The Rebels (24-8) advanced to face Vanderbilt in Saturday's SEC semifinals. Millinghaus drew a foul on Laurence Bowers with 5:11 remaining after toasting Pressey with a spin move on a fast-break. Despite missing both free throws, he quickly rebounded to hit a short jumper over Alex Oriakhi and another layup in transition on consecutive offensive possessions. Minutes later, Pressey flashed a wide grin after draining a three from the top of the key to give the Tigers a 62-59 lead with 48 seconds remaining. Undeterred, Millinghaus answered with a three of his own from the right wing.
“I just have confidence in myself that I can play with anyone in the country,” Millinghaus said.
Kennedy has a history of developing undersized, lightning-quick guards. At Cincinnati, Devan Downey flourished under Kennedy before earning first team All-SEC honors at South Carolina. In 2011, Chris Warren ended his career at Ole Miss with the most assists and highest points per game average in school history. When watching Millinghaus at Believe Prep in North Carolina, Kennedy was reminded of Warren.
After decommitting from St. Bonaventure, Millinghaus was a late-signee at Ole Miss last spring. Millinghaus said he also spoke with coaches from Miami (Fla.), Cincinnati and Wake Forest duing the recruiting process.
“There was a reason why Derrick wanted to come play for us,” said Ole Miss assistant coach Al Pikins, the primary recruiter of Millinghaus. “We showed him a lot of tape of Chris and Devan when he was at Cincinnati. It kind of sealed the deal for us.”
Henderson, who led Ole Miss with 27 points, hit a game-tying 35-foot buzzer-beater in an 89-79 overtime win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 15. At Friday's postgame press conference a jubilant Henderson exclaimed, “I can play another game right now. Let's go, I'm crazy.”
His enthusiasm was shared by Rebels' teammates, coaches and fans alike.
“We're going dancing, we're going dancing,” said Rebels guard Nick Williams as he sprinted into the locker room.
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