Ole Miss can't close out upset; loses star guard Stefan Moody to injury

Ole Miss basketball was without two starters Tuesday night against South Carolina.

And the Rebels lost a third, and their best player in Stefan Moody, to close out a lineup-depleting 24 hours.

The Rebels fell to 12-6 on the year and 2-4 in Southeastern Conference play with a 77-74 overtime loss to the Gamecocks, despite leading 64-53 with 5:17 remaining in regulation. Moody, who scored a team-leading 24 points, injured his hamstring late to join a growing list of walking wounding which already includes Sebastian Saiz and Martavious Newby.

“You’ve just got to deal with it,” Kennedy said. “I thought initially when Moody grabbed his hamstring, I just thought it was a cramp. He thought it was a little more than that. He wanted to play. Obviously we wanted him to play, he just couldn’t move. Despite all of that, if we had just made one play we win. One play.”

Saiz underwent surgery in the morning to repair a partially detached retina in his right eye. He attempted to play through the injury (which he suffered in a win at Memphis in December) in each of the previous two games, a pair of losses to LSU and Florida. Saiz is scheduled for a follow-up visit to the team physician Wednesday which will better determine his timeline for recovery, though he’s expected to miss at least a couple of weeks.

Newby also missed the game due to his own eye injury. He sat along the Ole Miss bench for the duration of the Rebels’ game against South Carolina, his right eye swollen shut. Newby had separate surgeries (one out-of-season, another in-season) aimed to fix a persistent condition involving the pressure in his eyes. How long he’ll be out is undetermined.

Without Saiz and Newby, the Rebels started Moody, Rasheed Brooks, Marcanvis Hymon, Tomasz Gielo and Anthony Perez. Freshmen guards Terence Davis and Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey received extended minutes, as well, combining for 37 minutes.

But the depleted Rebels weren’t able to hold off the 24th-ranked Gamecocks, who forced an extra period with a 17-2 run over the final 4:13 of the second half.

“The effort was there,” Kennedy said. “Our guys showed a lot of effort, a lot of courage. Battled, battled, battled. Unfortunately in this game that’s not enough. You have to make a play. Offensively, when Moody grabbed his hamstring, we were trying to get somebody else to step up. We couldn’t get that.”

The loss of Saiz was significant enough, let alone Moody. Saiz is the only true post player on the roster, leading a Rebel front court short on depth. He has six double-doubles on the year, tied for fifth in the SEC. He ranks second in the conference and 26th nationally with 9.8 rebounds per game, and he was averaging 10.2 rebounds over his previous 10 games prior to injury.

Kennedy opted for length with Saiz on the shelf, starting the struggling duo of Gielo and Perez alongside Hymon - his fifth start and second this month. Ole Miss was ranked fifth in the SEC with a +2.9 rebounding margin, having been out-rebounded its opponent just five times this season. South Carolina dominated the glass to the tune of a 49-37 advantage, though Hymon was somewhat of a bright spot with 10 points and six rebounds in 42 minutes. He entered play averaging 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds. He was 4 of 11 from the free throw line, including a handful of crippling misses late.

“I thought he was active,” Kennedy said of Hymon. “He can jump up and get an SEC rebound. We don’t have many of those guys. That’s my fault. But he can jump up and get an SEC rebound, and that’s the reason he was in the game, to give us a presence.”

Gielo had nine points and three rebounds in 26 minutes. He fouled out after struggling from the field, especially from 3-point range where he was 2-9. Perez made all four of his 3-point attempts for 12 first-half points; this after he scored no points and grabbed all of one rebound against Florida. He was shooting 20.6 percent from 3 for the season and 10 percent in SEC games. 

He was held to four in the second half, and his only 3-point try which would have given Ole Miss a lead in the waning seconds of regulation was no good. He fouled out, too.

“We’ve got to finish some plays to win these games,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to go make a play. Just didn’t get it done.”

The Rebels’ postseason prospects were already fading before the game. Losing Moody, who notched his 13th straight game with 20 or more points to tie Gerald Glass, for any length of time would likely prove too much to overcome. Moody “probably strained” his hamstring, Kennedy said, in a game in which he became the 38th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.

The final five on the floor as the closing seconds ticked away were Fitzpatrick-Dorsey, Davis, Terry Brutus, Brooks and Hymon. Brooks was non-existent, coming up empty in 10 shot attempts, eight from 3. 

Brooks took the final Ole Miss shot. Kennedy said he had no one else to turn to - a telling quote on where the Rebels sit not even halfway through their league schedule. Kennedy said even with blow after blow after blow all they can do is move forward. They’ve got no choice.

Ole Miss returns to action Saturday at in-state rival Mississippi State at 1 p.m.

“We are what we are,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to play the hand that’s dealt us.”

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