By KURT VOIGT
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Chris Silva had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and South Carolina rallied from five points down in the second half to defeat Mississippi 85-84 in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Wednesday night.
Silva was one of five players to score in double figures for the 11th-seeded Gamecocks (17-15), who likely need to win the tournament to have any hope of earning a berth to the NCAA Tournament - where they reached the Final Four last season. The 6-foot-9 sophomore was only 4 of 14 from the field, but he set career highs in free throw makes (13) and attempts (20).
Frank Booker also scored 21 points for South Carolina, and Justin Minaya had 16. Maik Kotsar added 14 points and Wesley Myers 10 in the win for the Gamecocks, who advance to face No. 6 seed Arkansas on Thursday.
Breein Tyree scored 18 points to lead the 14th-seeded Rebels (12-20), who lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games to end the season. Terence Davis added 16 points, while Bruce Stevens had 15 and Deandre Burnett 13 for Ole Miss.
Booker put South Carolina up 85-81 with a free throw with 13.4 seconds remaining. Stevens answered with a 3-pointer on the other end for the Rebels, but it came at the buzzer.
South Carolina led by as many as nine points midway through the first half. However, the Rebels closed the half with a flourish - with Davis hitting a baseline jumper as time expired to pull Ole Miss within 38-36 at halftime. They carried that momentum into the second half and led 61-58 before South Carolina took control with a 16-4 run and held on in the closing seconds.
Ole Miss: The Rebels were playing their fifth game without former coach Andy Kennedy, who made his earlier resignation effective immediately a day following a loss at Mississippi State on Feb. 18. After responding with an overtime win over Missouri the game following Kennedy's departure, Ole Miss lost its final four games of the season. Despite the loss on Wednesday night, the Rebels put forth an inspired effort to build on heading into the post-Kennedy era next season.
South Carolina: Silva attempted 16 of his career-high 20 free throw attempts in the second half, scoring the first five points of the half from the line and helping the Gamecocks withstand the early second-half run from the Rebels. The senior entered the game fourth nationally in free-throw attempts on the season, and he topped his previous bests in both makes (11) and attempts (14) - both which came in the loss to Ole Miss on Dec. 31.
The Rebels season is finished.
South Carolina advances to face Arkansas on Thursday night.
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP
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