NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Aching knees kept Deandre Burnett from playing in Mississippi's regular season finale, and coach Andy Kennedy brought him off the bench for the Rebels' opener in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Turns out the junior guard is feeling just fine.
Burnett scored 16 of his 23 points in the first half, and Ole Miss beat 14th-seeded Missouri 86-74 Thursday night to advance to the quarterfinals at the SEC tournament.
"Anytime you make your first shot, it feels good, a little pain goes out of the way," Burnett said. "I was just trying to battle through and play hard for my team. That was pretty much my mindset coming into the game."
The Rebels (20-12), the six seed, won their fourth in five games trying to improve their postseason resume. They simply wore down Missouri a night after the Tigers upset Auburn to give one last victory to coach Kim Anderson, whose firing was announced last weekend.
"Good to have Dre back," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "We live to fight another day."
Ole Miss traipsed to the free throw line early and often as three Tigers fouled out, finishing with more free throws (31 of 47) than Missouri made field goals (26 of 61). Sebastian Saiz, who had his SEC-best 20th double-double by halftime, finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Terence Davis added 19.
The Rebels will play No. 3 seed Arkansas on Friday night in the quarterfinals.
Missouri (8-24) finishes the season losing seven of eight. Anderson said it's been an emotional week, and he thinks the emotions of rallying to beat Auburn took a toll too.
"Just not sure we had a full tank of gas," Anderson said.
That left the Tigers dealing with the end of Anderson's tenure in the locker room.
"It was emotional, and it's never easy saying goodbye," Missouri sophomore forward Kevin Puryear said.
Jordan Barnett, Terrence Phillips and Puryear each had 15 points for Missouri, and Cullen Vanleer had 10.
The Tigers used the 3-pointer to stay close early after hitting a season-high 16 3s against Auburn. The Tigers hit six of their first 12 but couldn't keep pace.
Early, Burnett knocked down all four of his 3s as the Rebels shot 7 of 13 outside the arc in the first half. That, and free throws kept the Rebels ahead before they got going in transition. The Rebels also took advantage of their depth with a 23-9 edge in bench scoring to lead by as much as 14 before taking a 46-36 lead into halftime.
Frankie Hughes, whose 3 forced overtime in the Tigers' tournament opener, pulled Missouri within 50-41 with a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of the second half. That was as close as the Tigers would get as Ole Miss led by as much as 17 down the stretch.
BIG PICTURE: Missouri: The exhaustion of a season with so many losses capped by Anderson's firing effective at season's end appeared to catch up with the Tigers. Even Anderson picked up a technical foul in the second half. ... Ole Miss: If the Rebels want to even push themselves into bubble talk for the NCAA Tournament, they likely need at least another win or two. Otherwise, notching another 20-win season might be the highlight of this season. Kennedy, who now has nine 20-win seasons in the past 11 seasons, said he's just trying to win two games in two days right now.
QUOTABLE: "The end of the season's always hard because you never want to prepare your speech for the end of the season," Anderson said. "Now not only that, you're preparing them for the end of your career, or career here. I'm not going away dead. Just (leaving) here at Missouri OK?"
UP NEXT: Missouri: Hiring Anderson's replacement. ... Ole Miss: Playing No. 3 seed Arkansas in the quarterfinals.