Kermit Davis trusted his players.

The third-year Ole Miss head coach walked into the Tuohy Basketball Center on Sunday fully expecting to get after his team. The Rebels were a day removed from a critical late-season loss to in-state rival Mississippi State; a result Davis admitted ‘stung’ him as few have during his Rebel tenure.

The way he saw it, Ole Miss didn’t play with any juice, instead putting for a confounding, listless effort for a group seemingly fighting to stay on the NCAA Tournament bubble. He wasn’t going to put them through a two-hour marathon, but he’d planned an hour-plus practice centered on physicality.

However, before he could, he was intercepted by veteran guards Devontae Shuler and Jarkel Joiner. They had a request.

“We watched the tape and were going to practice that afternoon,” Davis said. “Devontae and Jarkel came to me and said, ‘Coach, trust us here. I just think our team, mentally, we need this afternoon off.’ I said, ‘Guys, I trust you.’ I didn’t really want to do that, but I told them, ‘I trust you.’ I trust Devontae. I trust Jarkel. I know. They’re not soft. They’ve been really good practice players.”

Davis didn’t ask for a reason. Maybe they were worn down after four straight days of practices. Maybe they were mentally drained from the weight of a grueling two-week postseason resurgence.

Whatever the motivation, Davis didn’t press the issue. No, in a season of ups and down — including a stretch of five losses in six games, as well as, at the time, the longest active winning streak in the SEC (4), with wins over two then-Top 10 teams — he opted to listen to Shuler, his point guard for three seasons, and Joiner, the Oxford native and Cal State Bakersfield transfer, who grew up dreaming of leading his hometown team to college basketball’s greatest stage.

And because he did, Ole Miss got off the mat and re-entered the NCAA Tournament picture with a 60-53 win at No. 24 Missouri on Tuesday, the third Quadrant 1 win for the Rebels (13-9, 8-7) on the season. They’re 3-0 against teams in the Top 25, and they’ve now beaten the same ranked team in a single season for the first time since 1998-99.

“That’s one of the very best wins we’ve had in my short three years since I’ve been here,” Davis said. “I hugged both their necks (Shuler and Joiner) when we were leaving the floor tonight. They said, ‘Coach, we love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you. I told you I trusted you.’ They responded well. Sure glad I listened to them.”

The game was eerily similar to their home win over Tennessee earlier this month, which kick-started an upswing of now five wins in their last six games. Ole Miss struggled to score, but the Rebels were relentless on the defensive end, turning a game that was tied at 50 with two and a half minutes remaining into a top mark on their postseason resume.

Shuler and Joiner each did their part, too. Arguably no player took the loss to Mississippi State harder than Shuler. He made just one of his 15 shot attempts in what was, inarguably, one of the worst performances of his career. He rebounded by scoring a team-leading 14 points. He also notched three rebounds. Romello White, Luis Rodriguez and Joiner had 10 apiece.

White led the Rebels in rebounds with nine. KJ Buffen added seven points and five rebounds. Joiner did most all of his damage at the free throw line, where he was 8 for 8. It was only fitting he was the one to put the win on ice, converting six straight at the stripe in the final 46 seconds.

“That was huge for us,” White said of the Sunday reprieve. “I felt like we really, really needed that. We needed that to just recover and get our mind right. It really showed. In practice, we had amazing energy. Game-day practice, we had great energy. Devontae, Jarkel, everybody, was very vocal. We just had great confidence and a lot of great energy.”

Ole Miss has life. The Rebels have even positioned themselves to possibly finish in the Top 4 in the league and earn a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.

But it had to start in Columbia, their last Q1 opportunity of the regular season. They could add a make-up game March 6, but the likely opponent will be South Carolina and not LSU (NET 28), meaning they’ll have to make up ground elsewhere. They were scheduled to play the Tigers, who are currently projected in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, last week, but a week-long winter storm resulted in a cancellation.

For now, Ole Miss has Vanderbilt and Kentucky remaining. KenPom gave the Rebels a 12 percent chance to win out entering Tuesday night. Taking down Missouri (14-7, 7-7) — a projected six-seed, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi — changes things, and it didn’t come easy. Actually, the Rebels nearly fell apart by falling back into old habits, specifically their painfully long scoring droughts.

They led 37-28 five minutes into the second half, only to see Missouri reel off a 15-2 run. Worse, in 14 minutes, they made all of four shots in 15 attempts.

But they didn’t flinch. They stayed engaged, relentlessly hounding the Tigers by pressuring the ball and switching everything. They mixed their 1-3-1 pressure with some 2-3 zone.

Joiner put the Rebels up by two with his one and only field goal, a mid-range jumper, to snap a drought of nearly five minutes at 10:03. With the score tied at 43-43 around the seven-minute mark, Shuler stepped into a three. Rodriguez broke a 48-48 tie with an alley-oop off a White screen and an assist from Buffen. Minutes later, in what Davis called the play of the game, Rodriguez, with Ole Miss up two and with another screen assist from White, drew two defenders on a baseline drive before bouncing a pass to Buffen for an easy lay-in at the rim.

On the other end, meanwhile, Ole Miss frustrated Missouri and didn’t let up. The Tigers didn’t score in the final 2:44, missing six of their last seven shots.

“Whether you win games in the 80s, whether you beat Tennessee 52-50 or beat a really tough Missouri team 60-53, everybody in college basketball has to find different ways to win right now,” Davis said.

“I told our team, I told our guys, (when) you go through tough stretches, you see it all around college basketball, people will start doubting you. Fans will doubt you. They’re passionate, I get it. I said guys, ‘We’ve just got to trust ourselves.’ We’re still right in the middle of it. We’ve got a lot of basketball ahead of us.”

Ole Miss could have easily laid down after Mississippi State. It didn’t. Instead, the Rebels have given themselves a chance again, once more putting forth an inspiring effort when all seemed lost.

Sure, they’ll probably have to take care of Vanderbilt and Kentucky and at least get to Saturday in Nashville, but, as they proved once more, they’re refusing to go down without a fight.

A fight built on trust.

“Our team showed it tonight,” Davis said. “We’ve got a long road ahead of us. But you know what? This time of the year, you just want to be right in the middle of the conversation. It’s right on us. We’ve just got to be hungry to practice and play.”