Six Mississippi basketball players take a knee during the national anthem before Saturday's game against Georgia. (Nathanael Gabler/The Oxford Eagle/Associated Press)

Eight University of Mississippi men’s basketball players knelt in protest during the national anthem before Saturday’s game as Confederate groups hosted a march through Oxford that finished on the school’s campus.

KJ Buffen, D.C. Davis, Brian Halums, Luis Rodriguez, Devontae Shuler and Bruce Stevens knelt as the team lined up shoulder to shoulder along the free throw line for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As the song neared its end, Breein Tyree and Franco Miller Jr. also knelt.

“We’re just tired of these hate groups coming to our school and portraying our campus — like our actual university has these hate groups in our school,” Tyree said during a postgame news conference. “The majority of it was, we saw one of our teammates doing it, and we just didn’t want him to be alone.”

“This was all about the hate groups that came to our community that tried to spread racism and bigotry," Coach Kermit Davis said. "It’s created a lot of tension for our campus. Our players made an emotional decision to show these people they’re not welcome on our campus. We respect our players’ freedom and ability to do that.”

The two Confederate groups, Confederate 901 and Hiwaymen, announced the “Mississippi Stands Rally” in January, calling it “the line in the sand” over the university’s decisions to distance itself from its Confederate past.

In 2003, the university pulled its mascot, Colonel Reb, an older white man dressed as an antebellum-era planter, off the sidelines of athletic events, concerned about his connections to the school’s slaveholding past. In 2009, the pep band stopped playing the school anthem “From Dixie with Love,” a Confederate ode set to the tune of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” whose lyrics cry, “The South will rise again.”

In 2014, the university designated the “Ole Miss” moniker specifically for athletics and school spirit uses. A year ago, it introduced “contextualization plaques” explaining sites of Confederate significance or acknowledging the experiences of enslaved people who worked at the institution.

“For over a decade the administration and faculty have completely disregarded and disrespected the traditions of a once great southern university,” the event’s Facebook page states. More than 100 users posted they were going to the rally, while another 400-plus said they were “interested.”

According to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion Ledger, approximately 100 pro-Confederate protesters gathered at the Square in Oxford’s historic downtown, waving Confederate flags and singing “Dixie.” Counterprotesters responded with taunts and sang “This Little Light of Mine,” as seen in video captured at the scene.

Davis, Mississippi’s first-year coach, insisted during his introductory news conference last March that his team would honor the national anthem, saying the Rebels would be a “respectful team.”

“We’re going to be a respectful team that respects the flag and the national anthem,” he said. “All those things from culture is what we’re about. It’s who we’re going to be.”

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