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It’s Valpo vs. Ole Miss for the first time since ’99. Remember?

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It’s Valpo vs. Ole Miss for the first time since ’98. Remember?

Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew (20) follows through with his game-winning three-point shot at the buzzer over Mississippi’s Jason Flanigan (3) in their first round game of the NCAA Midwest Regional in Oklahoma City on March 13, 1998. (AP Photo/J.Pat Carter, File)

Valparaiso will visit for a basketball game Saturday, the first time the two teams have met since Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew hit the shot heard around the basketball world.

You know: The shot. It was March 13, 1998, at Oklahoma City, first round of the NCAA  Tournament. Ole Miss, a 4-seed, was a big favorite to beat 13-seed Valpo of the Mid-Continent Conference.

Even basketball fans who weren’t alive then likely have seen the shot replayed multiple times. TV networks play it several times every year when March Madness comes around. It has become one of the iconic plays in history. The networks still play announcer Ted Johnson’s excited call: 

“The inbound pass will be thrown by Jamie Sykes. Carter is pressuring … It’s to Jenkins, to Drew, for the win! GOOD! HE DID IT! BRYCE DREW DID IT! Valpo has won the game! A miracle … An absolute miracle!”

Rick Cleveland

It surely seemed so: Valparaiso 70, Ole Miss 69. For most, it was the feel-good story March Madness is all about, the Cinderella team from a little bitty conference knocks off the favored giant. In this case, the hero was the coach’s son, providing the high point of Homer Drew’s long coaching career.

For Ole Miss, however, it just sucked. For some, nearly a quarter of a century later, it still does.

Carter, who was pressuring the inbounds pass, is Keith Carter, now the Ole Miss athletic director. He was a junior guard at Ole Miss, a terrific player who led the Rebels with 22 points and 11 in that game. But his numbers are not what Carter remembers most.

“I have probably replayed it in my head a million times over the last 25 years,” Carter said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “I always come back to this: Bryce had just missed an open 3-pointer on their previous possession that would have given them the lead. No way he was going to miss two in a row. You just could not let him have that second opportunity. We did.

“In my mind we were the better team, but we let them hang around and hang around and then a great player hit a great shot. That’s what happens in March Madness. But back then, I’m not sure I understood what that one shot meant.”

Rob Evans did. That was the last game he ever coached at Ole Miss after winning 42 games and taking the Rebels to two NCAA Tournaments his last two years in Oxford. Soon afterward, he took the head coaching job at Arizona .

The March 13, 1998 loss to Valparaiso was the last game Rob Evans evert coached at Ole Miss

“I remember going to the locker room and telling my guys, ‘You are going to see that shot for the rest of your lives,’” Evans said by phone Wednesday from Dallas where he is a special assistant to the athletic director at SMU. 

In all, Evans spent 48 years as a college coach after four years as a college player. Says he, “That Valpo game was without a doubt the lowest feeling I ever had in basketball. For us to lose that game in those final seconds, everything had to go right for them and everything had to go wrong for us. And I will forever believe we had a team capable of going deep in that tournament, the Elite Eight or the Final Four.”

That was a fabulous Ole Miss team, one of the best in Rebel basketball history. Led by All American Ansu Sesay, the Rebels were in the nation’s Top 25 the entire season and finished the regular season ranked No. 10. They won at Kentucky. They swept Mississippi State. They thrashed LSU. Twice. They won the SEC West with a 12-4 conference record and finished 22-7 overall. They were a tough, physical team that played especially hard on defense. They were deep in talent. The backcourt was terrific with starting point guard Michael White and wing-man Carter. Sharp-shooting sixth man Joezon Darby provided instant energy and a scoring boost off the bench. Reserve point guards Jason “Buck” Flanagan and Jason Smith would have started for many teams. Center Anthony Boone was an enforcer inside and the team’s spiritual leader, gimpy knees and all. Freshman Rahim Lockhart provided quality depth inside.

They were basketball savvy, too. White is now the head coach at Georgia after successful runs at Louisiana Tech and Florida. Boone is the head coach at Central Arkansas. Lockhart coaches Jones College. Flanigan coaches at Holmes Community College. Sesay, after a long professional career, is an assistant coach at Texas Southern. Darby runs a highly successful basketball training academy Dallas. And Carter, of course, now hires and fires coaches.

Ole Miss was a 10-point favorite over Valpo. Thanks to Carter, who made 4 of 7 3-pointers and tied Drew for game-high scoring with 22 points, the Rebels led most of the way. They were up by four points at halftime and still led by two points going into the final seconds. And then, as Evans put it, everything had to go right for Valpo, wrong for Ole Miss. Sesay rebounded Drew’s miss and was fouled with 4.2 seconds remaining and the Rebels leading 69-67. Sesay could have put the game away, but Sesay, normally a proficient free throw shooter, missed both. Carter battled for the rebound but the ball went out of bounds on the sidelines in front of the Ole Miss bench. Only 2.5 seconds remained. Nearly 25 years later, Carter has vivid memories. 

“The official said it went off of me, but I am almost certain I did not I touch it last,” Carter said. “And then when they let them in-bound the ball from the end of the court instead of in front of our bench, which would have been a more difficult angle to make that pass. Still, you have to give them credit for making the play.”

Said Evans, “If the ball just stays in bounds after the missed free throw, we win.”

Still, Valpo had to go the length of the court. That’s hard to do in 2 and half seconds, less time than it took you to read this sentence.

Carter, a high leaper, fronted the in-bounds pass by Sykes. Carter jumped high, as Sykes faked as if to pass. Then, as Carter came down, Sykes rifled a ball down the floor to teammate Bill Jenkins, just over the finger tips of a leaping Lockhart. Jenkins quickly shoveled the ball to Drew, who swished a running 20-footer at the buzzer

“When he shot it, I knew it was in,” Evans said. “Buck (Flanagan) was covering Bryce and took his eyes off him just a split second when the pass was coming down the court. That’s all it took.”

Said Lockhart, “It felt like a in the family.”

In four months, it will have been 25 years since Drew’s deed was done. In the ensuing years, both Carter and Evans have become friends with Bryce Drew, who now coaches at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix after an NBA career and a stint as the head coach at Vanderbilt.

“Such a good guy, such a good family,” Carter says of Drew, who married a Jackson native, the former Tara Thibodeaux, an accomplished dancer and choreographer.

As it turns out, Evans’ grandson and Bryce and Tara’s son, Homer Drew’s grandson, are teammates on a youth basketball team in Phoenix. What are the odds?

One more note: A man named Bryce Drew (no relation to the more famous Bryce Drew), is now the Manager of Human Relations at Ole Miss. Says Keith Carter, chuckling, “This Bryce Drew is a really good guy, too, but I gotta tell you, it took me a while to get past his name.”

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

‘Our biggest nightmare just came true’: LGBTQ+ community shocked by surprise release of Ole Miss student charged with murder 

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‘Our biggest nightmare just came true’: LGBTQ+ community shocked by surprise release of Ole Miss student charged with murder 

Sheldon Timothy Herrington, Jr., the graduate charged with murdering Jimmie “Jay” Lee, was released on a $250,000 bond Thursday after his lawyer made an agreement with the Lafayette County District Attorney’s Office. 

The agreement – made without a hearing – shocked the LGBTQ+ community in Oxford who thought Herrington would stay in jail through the remainder of the court proceedings with a grand jury hearing pending early next year because he was originally denied bond.

Justice for Jay Lee, a group of students and friends of Lee’s, condemned Herrington’s release in an Instagram post and called on several public officials in Oxford – including the mayor and the chancellor of University of Mississippi – to speak out “during the scariest time in our community.” 

“They kept his possible release a secret out of fear of us protesting and advocating for Jay Lee,” the post, written in all-caps, reads. “Our biggest nightmare just came true. We warned them this would happen. Our officials should have advocated for the courts to not release Timothy.”

Picture shows Jimmie Jay Lee.
Lee was well-known on campus for his involvement in the LGBTQ community.

Herrington was arrested two weeks after Lee went missing on July 8. later determined that he had a sexual relationship with Lee and that his apartment was the last place Lee went. That night, a few minutes after Lee messaged that he was coming over, Herrington Googled “how long does it take to strangle someone gabby petito,” then “does pre workout boost testosterone.” 

In August, a Lafayette County Circuit Court judge denied Herrington bond on the grounds that he is a flight risk because he searched for flights from Dallas to Singapore the day before Lee went missing.

But in the agreement signed Thursday, Herrington was permitted to post bond if he agreed to wear and pay for an ankle monitor and surrender his passport to the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department. Kilpatrick agreed these conditions would “satisfactorily relieve any fears” that Herrington would flee the before trial, according to the order. 

Earlier this week, Kilpatrick was elected the first County Court Judge in Lafayette County history following a runoff. 

Herrington’s attorney, state Rep. Kevin Horan, did not respond to a request for comment before press time; neither did a member of Herrington’s family. Ben Creekmore, the Lafayette County District Attorney, could not be reached but Action 5 reported that he said the agreement was made in exchange for Horan dropping a petition he filed in October that claimed Herrington was being held in jail illegally. 

READ MORE: ‘A grand jury has not “failed to indict” the Ole Miss graduate charged with murder as legal filing claims

Lee’s body has been missing since he disappeared on July 8. He was last seen leaving Molly Barr Trails, a student apartment complex in Oxford, but police believe his body is somewhere between Lafayette or Grenada counties based on Herrington’s movements that day. 

According to evidence at the preliminary hearing in August, Lee had gone to Herrington’s house early in the morning on July 8, left and returned a few hours later. Later that day, Herrington drove a moving truck to his parents’ house outside of Grenada where he was seen on footage retrieving a shovel and long handled wheelbarrow.

For members of the LGBTQ+ community across the state, Lee’s murder is emblematic of the disproportionate violence that LGBTQ+ people in Mississippi face as well as law enforcement’s routine failure to properly investigate or prosecute these cases. In Lee’s case, members of the community say that failure is evident in Herrington’s surprise release and because police have yet to find Lee’s body.

Justice for Jay Lee has been urging people to write letters on behalf of Lee to the Lafayette County Courthouse as dozens of people in Grenada, including powerful officials like the sheriff and superintendent, had advocated for Herrington’s release. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Controversy inherent, but Judkins deserved to win the Conerly

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Controversy inherent, but Judkins deserved to win the Conerly

Remarkable freshman running back Quinshon Judkins won the C Spire Conerly Trophy Tuesday night and many Jackson fans – and some media – are calling it a travesty.

If the tables were turned – if JSU’s Shadeur Sanders had won – Ole Miss fans and probably some media would be outraged.

Rick Cleveland

That’s just the way it is for individual awards in the sporting world.

This column comes with this disclaimer: I voted for Judkins. It was a difficult choice. Shedeur Sanders, a player I have much admired and praised often in this column, led an undefeated Jackson State team to the SWAC championship. He completed 70% of his passes for more than 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns (with only six interceptions). As his daddy, the coach, said, “As Shedeur goes, we go.” JSU has gone far.

In the -up to the Conerly I heard many Ole Miss (and State) fans say something like, “Yeah, Sanders is obviously good, but look at the competition he plays against. He’s not throwing for all those yards against Alabama and LSU.”

Sanders can’t help that. Steve McNair, Jerry Rice and Walter Payton didn’t play against Alabama and LSU either. I voted for McNair and Rice to win the Heisman Trophy and would have voted for Payton if I had had a vote back when Walter played at JSU. It is up to the individual voter to decide how a player’s talents translate to a higher level of competition. I believed both Rice and McNair were the most outstanding college players in the country — at any level — when they played. Doug Flutie won the Heisman instead of Rice. Rashaad Salaam won instead of McNair. You decide who was the better player in either case. I stand by my votes.

The Heisman is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in the country and the Conerly is supposed to go to the most outstanding player in the state. I voted for Judkins because I thought he was Mississippi’s most outstanding player. In my mind, it was close. How close? Had Sanders won, I would not have been surprised, nor disappointed. Do I think Shedeur Sanders would be a great player in the SEC? Yes, I do.

But again, having to make a choice between the two, I thought Judkins was the more outstanding player. Blending quickness, speed, power and toughness, Judkins ran for 1,476 yards and right at six yards per carry. He scored 16 rushing touchdowns and another on a pass reception. He ran for 214 yards against Texas A&M, 205 yards against Arkansas, 135 yards against Alabama, 139 against Auburn and 111 against LSU. He led the SEC in rushing and touchdowns. Before doing all that, he had to beat out Zach Evans, a former five-star recruit who ran for over seven yards per carry in two seasons at TCU.

Ole Miss has been playing football for 129 years. Nobody in school history has ever run for so many yards – not Deuce McAllister, not Joe Gunn, not Charlie Flowers, not anyone.

As I wrote recently, Judkins reminds me most of the great Walter Payton. That is not a comparison I make flippantly. He runs with similar relentlessness. When people tackle him, it hurts them worse than it hurts him. He is just 19 years old. Barring injury and with continued hard work, he can become one of the greatest backs ever.

Shedeur Sanders, who will lead his team in the SWAC Championship game Saturday, was terrific as a freshman, better as a sophomore. In my mind, Judkins was a whisker better. For that matter, Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes, the third Conerly finalist, might have been the best cornerback in the country. And there were other strong candidates — a testament to the quality of college football played in the Magnolia State.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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