After a close start, Ole Miss pulled away late in the first half, securing a 42-31 halftime lead. Andy Kennedy’s team played a near perfect first half; it won the battle on the glass, committed fewer turnovers, shot 57 percent from the field and was 60 percent from beyond the arc.
It was senior night Saturday in The Pavilion, and seniors Rasheed Brooks and Sebastian Saiz received well-deserved send-offs. The two senior leaders combined for 17 points and 10 boards in the first half alone, both demonstrating the abilities that have made them household names in Oxford.
The flawless play was largely ignited by freshman point guard Breein Tyree and Sebastian Saiz. Tyree led all scorers with 13 first-half points, while Saiz chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds.
“They’re (South Carolina) the No. 2 rated defensive efficiency team in the country. They force the second most turnovers in the country, but we made it. We shot the ball, man,” Kennedy said about his team. “We were up 20. I knew they weren’t going to go away.”
And South Carolina did not go away. Ole Miss opened the second half with the same sort of impassioned play that gave the team its halftime lead, opening with a 9-0 run. Once the lead ballooned to 20 points, South Carolina, led by Frank Martin, came roaring back.
South Carolina’s “swing-in momentum” could be attributed to a number of factors; Terence Davis picking up of his fourth and fifth fouls wasn’t a good place to start. Davis, Ole Miss’ engine and, at times, most dynamic offensive threat, fouled out with 14 minutes to go in the second half. He had just three points.
South Carolina’s attack was spearheaded by Sindarius Thornwell, the second leading scorer in the conference. The senior currently averages 21 points, seven rebounds and just under three assists a game. Thornwell has been the metronome for a Gamecock team that has fluctuated in and out of the top 25 rankings all year.
Despite a furious comeback effort that briefly cut the Ole Miss lead to four, South Carolina was never able to get over the hump, ultimately falling to Ole Miss 75-70.
For Ole Miss, the victory over South Carolina and Arkansas’ simultaneous defeat of Georgia slated the Rebels as a No. 6 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament. Projected to finish ninth in the conference, Kennedy’s team continues to defy expectations.
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin gave high praise to Ole Miss, specifically concerning its postseason fate.
“I have no idea why no one is mentioning Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament conversation,” Martin said.
Throughout the season, the Rebels have, more often than not, looked the part, but they may fall short on paper. Yet every opposing coach who comes through The Pavilion seems to levy high praise for this group.
South Carolina is arguably Ole Miss’ best win of the year, and at a time when marquee wins come at a premium, beating the Gamecocks should at least give the NCAA Selection Committee something to think about.
Saiz led the Rebels in his final game in Oxford with 21 points, 15 boards and three blocks.
“Sebas was tremendous,” Kennedy said. “What a great way for him to go out on senior night.”
Saiz also notched his 19th double-double of the year, the most of any player in the SEC. For the 6-foot-9 Spaniard, Saturday night capped off an illustrious career as a Rebel. The undersized center has made a tremendous impact in his four years in Oxford. At a school where basketball is often an afterthought, he’s made quite the name for himself.
“That was my favorite game at Ole Miss, I’m not going to lie,” Saiz said. “It was emotional. The fans were outstanding. I loved it. I feel like if we can get one or two more wins in Nashville, we can be in the NCAA Tournament.”
Ole Miss will face the winner of Auburn and Missouri Thursday night in the second round of the SEC Tournament.