Fulfilling Expectations

Andy Kennedy knew Stefan Moody would make a significant impact in his debut season at Ole Miss.

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However, he thought the impact would be immediate. The ninth-year Ole Miss head coach is admittedly a tough person to please.

Moody was named SEC Player of the Week for the second time this season after averaging 25.5 points per game and knocking down 14 3s in wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee last week. The junior guard is averaging 20.3 ppg over his last seven games and leads the SEC in scoring in league play at 18.6 ppg.

But it wasn’t always this way. Actually, it took some time – five games, to be exact – for Moody, formerly of Florida Atlantic and Kilgore Community College, to re-adjust to Division-I basketball.

“It was definitely the Cincinnati game,” Moody said. “I had been struggling a lot before then. That’s pretty much when I hit my first 3, and I kind of banked it off the glass. It was like a sigh of relief when it went in. I’ve kind of rolled from there.”

Moody scored 26 points in the neutral-site win on 9 of 17 shooting. More importantly, though, he finally found some consistency behind the 3-point line, making three of his seven attempts. He entered the game having hit on just three of his first 21.

Nearly three months later, Moody has emerged as the unquestioned go-to player for an Ole Miss team currently 19-8 (10-4 SEC) on the year and well-positioned for a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Rebels, who host Georgia tonight at 8 p.m., rank No. 32 in the latest NCAA RPI rankings.

“He should be considered for (SEC Player of the Year),” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “I’m not sure anybody has been able to guard him.”

“I wanted him to do it right out of the gate,” Kennedy said. “It took him a little bit longer to get confident in his role, and then confidence is such a big key. He’s obviously playing very confidently right now. Physically, he’s special. He’s got the physical strength to do it. He can get separation. I knew he could be an explosive player.”

His explosiveness was on display at Mississippi State a week ago.

Moody scored a career-high 29 points and connected on a career-best eight 3s as Ole Miss completed the season sweep of its in-state rival for the first time since 1998 with a 71-65 win.

“I felt I was going to be able to come in and do some things,” Moody said. “But it’s something you’ve got to get used to – how A.K. runs things, how basketball’s played here at this level. I’m setting into it.”

Ole Miss hosts Georgia:

Ole Miss has won eight of its last nine SEC games for the first time since 1937-38.

And it all started with a loss at Georgia a month ago.

Not much went right in the 69-64 loss. No player outside of Moody scored in double-digit points, while Ole Miss, as a team, shot 40 percent from the floor, including 22 percent from 3. The Rebels turned the ball over 14 times and shot 17 fewer free throws than the Bulldogs.

Kennedy said, looking back, Ole Miss lacked awareness in the game. There were glaring mistakes on both ends of the floor the Rebels were able to see on film and learn from.

“We’ve all evolved a little bit,” Kennedy said. “I think we’ve gotten better. Obviously in preparation for the game, I watched it and it wasn’t easy to watch because we made a lot of mistakes. Georgia’s the same Georgia in that they don’t really have any weaknesses. They’re a solid team. They’re a very good team who’s had our number. We’ve got to make sure we play well Wednesday.”

Ole Miss left Athens a game under .500 (2-3) in SEC play. Save for a one-point loss to Arkansas at home, they’ve been all but flawless in the win-loss column since, with a six-game SEC winning streak mixed in. The Rebels have won four straight conference road games for the first time in school history.

“Ole Miss is just terrific,” Fox said. “I think they’re one of the top 20 teams in America.”

Georgia isn’t too bad itself. The Bulldogs sit at 17-9 (8-6 SEC) on the year after splitting games against South Carolina and Alabama. They’re led in scoring by senior forward Marcus Thornton, who is averaging 12.3 ppg and a team-best 6.9 rebounds.

“I feel we’re a different team as far as the way we handle things and how we go at it going down the stretch,” Moody said. “We’re a much better closing team. We’ve been in a few close ones, lost one against Arkansas. But we’ve overcome the rest.”

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