GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico - La Salle had the right attitude, just not always the right shots.
The Explorers kept undefeated Mississippi on its heels in the San Juan Shootout last night, but in the final minutes, their little stumbles added up to an 84-77 loss.
Don't expect the Explorers (4-5) to bury their heads in the Caribbean sand, though, after losing to the impressive Rebels (10-0).
"I think it's the best game we've played this year," La Salle coach John Giannini said.
The Explorers charged back from a 42-29 halftime deficit and trailed by only three points, 80-77, with 16.9 seconds remaining.
La Salle missed several easy layups that, if converted, could have treated the handful of fans at the Mario Morales Coliseum to the tournament's first upset.
The Explorers will try again today when they play DePaul, which is suffering through a five-game losing streak.
"We really had opportunities," Giannini said.
La Salle took advantage of every blip by Ole Miss and finally started putting its pumped-up attitude to use.
Rodney Green scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, and Yves Mekongo Mbala scored 12 of his 15 in the second-half run. Ruben Guillandeaux added nine of his 12 points after halftime.
Then the team ran out of steam.
La Salle missed five layups in the final eight minutes, and the Rebels' spunky guard, Eniel Polynice, who led Ole Miss with 20 points, took over.
In the final four minutes, Polynice hit a three-pointer, slammed a dunk, and got the assist on a three by Chris Warren that gave the Rebels a 78-71 lead with 2 minutes, 8 seconds remaining.
La Salle made 3 of 5 free throws and Green sank a layup to cut the deficit to three with 16.9 seconds to play.
A layup by Guillandeaux was not close to going in with 6.5 seconds remaining, and Ole Miss connected on its last four free throws.
The Rebels also took advantage of 20 La Salle turnovers for 24 points.
But even in defeat, La Salle saw signs of improvement.
Before heading to Puerto Rico for the three-day tournament, the Explorers had dropped back-to-back games against Bucknell and Morgan State.
They knew the competition in the tournament would be tough, but Giannini was pleased that his players were eager to take it on.
"We worked extremely hard in the week and a half of practice leading up to Puerto Rico, and it's showing," he said. "They were very excited about playing an undefeated team."