And the Rebels did so despite atypical performances from three of their best players.
Stefan Moody scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds, but he struggled from the floor, shooting 4 of 17. He missed all seven of his 3-point attempts, snapping a streak of 37-straight games with a 3. Rasheed Brooks went scoreless and reboundless in 12 minutes. Sebastian Saiz, second only to Moody in importance for this Ole Miss team, totaled 11 points and four rebounds. But he fouled out with 4:43 to play.
Ole Miss (16-9, 6-6 SEC) won anyway, 76-60, using a 22-9 run to pull within two at halftime and a 24-12 spurt in the first 11 minutes of the second half for a significant advantage the Rebels would never relinquish and the Razorbacks never threatened.
“Moody really struggled,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Struggled, man. He’s been struggling, quite frankly. I think our team’s maturing a little bit. We got great minutes out of Anthony Perez, we got great minutes out of Marcanvis Hymon, we got great minutes out of Tomasz Gielo. I think Donte (Fitzpatrick-Dorsey) continues to come.
“It was a team effort. The game had no flow for us early. The second half we were able to put together multiple stops in our man defense. That was the most encouraging. Proud of the effort, especially defensively.”
For one game at least, the supporting cast equally stole the show in a critical win the Rebels had to have to keep their slim NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Gielo, Perez and Hymon all totaled double-digit points, with Gielo leading finishing second on the team with 15 points. He was 4 of 8 form the floor and 3 of 5 from 3, extending a four-game hot streak where he’s shot around 55 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3.
Perez was 4 of 6 in his shot attempts and 3 of 4 from 3 for 11 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds, while Hymon picked up his second double-double in his last five games with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He’s shooting over 51 percent from the field over the last seven games.
“The cool part about our team is anybody can have their night in any given game,” Gielo said. “Tonight I might have had 15, but another time it might be A.P. or (Hymon) or Rasheed Brooks. Sebas is back, and that’s crucial for us. Obviously Moody is going to go out there and try to get his 20 no matter what. He plays at a level that not a lot of other players can. But what matters is who else can step up.”
“I thought that was going to be a big key. We were going to pay attention to Moody because he’s a tremendous player,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “I thought those other guys did a good job for them. You always worry about those other guys going off. And they did. That’s a credit to them, and Moody as well.”
Ole Miss has reached the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three seasons. To get there again, the Rebels need wins, sure, but quality wins. Quantity isn’t the issue.
They have no wins to hang their hat on. South Carolina nearly a month ago would have been. Ole Miss lost to the then-No. 18 Gamecocks in overtime after giving up a late double-digit lead following a hamstring injury to Moody and the first of a six-game stretch without Saiz. The Rebels then followed a few days later, without Moody, with a loss at in-state rival Mississippi State. The Bulldogs currently sit at 171 in the RPI according to RealTimeRPI.
Ole Miss came close to a resume-building win Tuesday, but the Rebels lost, 80-71, to a top-30 Florida team in Gainesville. A road trip to Texas A&M Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPNU stands as the best remaining regular-season game to get a win that helps for the postseason, but the Aggies have lost four-straight games, including a 76-71 loss at LSU this afternoon.
But for the first time in weeks, Ole Miss has its lineup together and is relatively healthy. And if Saturday is any indication, the Rebels can now win in a number of different ways. Moody is no longer alone.
They’ll need to make a run. But they’re finally showing signs - as Saturday proved - of a team that has a real chance.
“Every other team, all they can talk about is ‘Hey, we have to stop Moody if we’re going to win this game,’” Gielo said. “When you have other guys step up, the other team has to scratch their head. The best teams are the ones that are not one-way teams. We can’t just say ‘OK, lets try to win that game by having Stefan go for 40,’ even though he can do that.
“Can everybody else step up?”