Stefan Moody scored 24 points in his return against Auburn

Stefan Moody walked off the floor with a few minutes left, some 8,000 Ole Miss fans on their feet to give their star guard the ovation he deserved.

He wasn’t 100 percent healthy Wednesday night against Auburn. It didn’t matter. Because the he made his return from the hamstring injury he suffered in a loss to South Carolina just over a week ago with 24 points on 7 of 14 shooting to lead the Rebels to a 80-63 win over Auburn. The win snapped a four-game winning streak.

“This team needs a leader,” said Andy Kennedy, who has still yet to lose five-straight games in any of his 10 seasons as Ole Miss head coach. “Everybody wants to be Batman, but can’t everybody be Batman. Lot of Robins … Robin Juniors for me, actually. 

“We needed Batman back. It was good to have him back tonight.”

Moody, who leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally in scoring, wasn’t his usual explosive self - a step slower and electing for 3-point opportunities over consistent drives to the basket. But he made 6 of 12 from long distance, including three-straight in an electric start to the second half. 

And he’s now scored 20 points in 14-straight games, passing Gerald Glass for the longest streak in school history since 1989. He’s on pace for the highest season scoring average since former Rebel Joe Harvell led the league in scoring (25 points per game) in 1992.

“He was on point,” senior guard Martavious Newby said. Newby sat out the last two games with a lingering eye issue. He finished with seven points and nine rebounds. “It was meant for us to probably be out just to see how our team would play without us. They surprised us that Mississippi State game (with how well they played), and they were ready today.”

Moody wasn’t alone. Marcanvis Hymon didn’t start, but he ably filled in for injured forward Sebastian Saiz, who’s missed three games in a row due to surgery to repair a detached retina in his eye. Saiz has already been ruled out for Kansas State Saturday at 1 p.m. He’ll have a follow-up visit with the team surgeon early next week to determine how much longer he sits.

In his absence, however, Hymon logged his first career double-double, finishing with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He made 7 of 11 from the floor.

“We were all kind of on our heels,” Hymon said of the losing streak. “We were all kind of like ‘What’s next?’ We’ve never been through this. Last year, my freshman year, we never lost two games in a row. We all had to rally together and come together.”

And they did behind Moody, the captain of an Ole Miss ship simply trying to keep itself afloat and avoid taking on more water. Kennedy said there was doubt up until pregame shootaround Moody was going to play in the game, even if he’d practiced Tuesday following a few days of limited reps and light shooting and movement.

But his team and its faint postseason hopes needed him. So they shined the Moody signal and he donned his cape.

“It was big,” Hymon said of having Moody back. “When he went down with the injury, we were all kind of a little shook. We’re not used to Moody going out like that. But Moody battled through it. During the game he kind of felt it a little bit. It was kind of hurting a little bit, but he battled through it and came through for us.”

Hamstring injuries have a tendency to linger. Kennedy said Moody felt it early in the game when he tried to use his typical burst to the rim - his first such attempt since he pulled up lame, and Kennedy admitted Moody is “going to be sore for a while.”

Ole Miss, though, will only go as far as he takes them. He has to play. Pain and all.

“He was in such a great rhythm,” prior to the injury, Kennedy said. “I think for the first time in his career, the game has slowed down for him. Against South Carolina, I thought he was playing at a different pace than everybody else. It was easy and it was free.

“Nights like tonight hopefully will allow him to get back to that mindset.”

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