Rapid Reaction: Ole Miss 66, S. Carolina 55

ATLANTA -- After defeating South Carolina 66-55 in the first round of the SEC tournament on Thursday, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy guided his team to a 20-win campaign for the fourth time in five seasons.

But unless the Rebels can somehow win three more games in the Georgia Dome this weekend, they’ll probably end up where Kennedy’s first three 20-win teams played in the postseason -- in the NIT.

The Rebels actually had an RPI rating of No. 78 -- four spots higher than SEC West champion Alabama -- entering the SEC tournament. But the Crimson Tide went 12-4 in SEC play during the regular season. Ole Miss went 7-9.

Unless Ole Miss makes an improbable run in the SEC tournament, winning four games in four days to claim the league’s automatic NCAA berth, it looks like the Rebels will be playing in the NIT once again.

Turning point: South Carolina cut a 14-point deficit to 30-26 at the half, and then trailed 30-27 with 18:36 to go. But the Rebels went on an 11-0 run from there, with All-SEC guard Chris Warren making two 3-pointers to blow the game open. Warren’s second 3-pointer made it 41-27 with 16:28 to go.

Key player: Warren was fantastic in the second half, scoring 13 of his 20 points after the half. It was Warren’s 15th game this season with 20 points or more and he shot 5 of 7 after halftime. He finished 7 of 16 from the floor, including 3-for-7 on 3-pointers, with three rebounds and four assists.

Key stat: The Rebels outscored the Gamecocks 30-18 in the paint. In South Carolina’s 79-73 victory over Ole Miss in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 22, the Gamecocks had a 32-22 edge in the paint.

Miscellaneous: South Carolina center Sam Muldrow nearly finished with a triple-double in his final college game with 12 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots.

What’s next: Ole Miss advances to play East No. 2 seed Kentucky in Friday’s quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. The Rebels upset the then-No. 11 Wildcats 71-69 in Oxford, Miss., on Feb. 1. It was the Rebels’ first victory over a top-10 foe since 2002. South Carolina finished the season with a 14-16 record, its second straight losing campaign under coach Darrin Horn.