Sebastian Saiz (USA Today images)

Ole Miss closed the regular season with an impressive 75-70 win over South Carolina

Ole Miss closed the regular season with a 75-70 win over South Carolina Saturday night. Analysis, quotes, recap and box score.

SPIRIT'S TAKE

Ole Miss will need a deep run in the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn., next week for any shot at NCAA Tournament consideration. 

Of course, if the Rebels win it all, they’re in. Anything short of a championship — which would be their third in school history and second since 2013 — means they’re probably, if not assuredly, out. Entering play Saturday night against South Carolina, Ole Miss was projected as a No. 3 seed in the NIT. 

Ole Miss didn’t string together three straight wins at any point in conference play, so the Rebels will have to do something they haven’t done since December to punch their ticket. Not to mention they were 2-8 against the RPI Top 50 and 5-12 against the Top 100. South Carolina counts as their one and only signature resume win. 

Suffice to say, they’ve got their work cut out for them.

“I have no idea why no one is even mentioning Ole Miss as a team that has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament,” South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said. “I have no idea. If they played in any other conference in the country, they’d be in that conversation. They’re good. Andy manages things unbelievable. His team is playing at a high level at the right time of the year.”

“I’d like to submit him for a vote,” Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. “Frank’s my brother. You help your brothers. Our numbers don’t dictate that we are an NCAA Tournament team. But guess what? Numbers aren’t complete. We have a chance to improve on those.”

Andy Kennedy (USA Today images)

If they do, ultimately, fall short, senior forward Sebastian Saiz will have gone all four seasons of his Rebel career having played in only one NCAA Tournament. And that would be a shame for one of the most productive bigs to ever don an Ole Miss uniform.

Saiz recorded his 28th double-double with 21 points and 15 rebounds in a 75-70 win over South Carolina. Ole Miss will be the No. 6 seed in the SEC tournament, playing either Auburn or Missouri in the late game on Thursday.

“It was my favorite game at Ole Miss,” Saiz said. “It was emotional. The fans were amazing, outstanding. I love to get out there and get my picture taken and get the love. And to get the win? We played hard the whole game. Great way to finish.”

Saiz finished the regular season with 19 double-doubles to lead the SEC and rank seventh nationally. He’s tops in the conference, and ninth in all of college basketball, with 10.8 rebounds a game. Saiz is the only player in the SEC this season averaging a double-double, and he’s the league’s active career rebounding leader, having recently moved past Reggie Buckner into third in Ole Miss history in rebounds. 

Saiz topped both 1,000 points and 900 boards in his career, joining Rebel great Murphy Holloway as the only two players in school history with 1,000 points and 900 rebounds. Saiz is also the only player in Rebel history with 1,000 points, 900 boards and 100 blocked shots and just the 16th player in SEC history to reach the milestone. Among the others to accomplish the feat are SEC legends like Glenn Davis (LSU), Shaquille O’Neal (LSU) and Kenny Walker (Kentucky).

“What a great way for him to go out on senior night,” Kennedy said. “I thought he certainly was the difference tonight.”

Saiz saved one of his best efforts of the season for last. He was assertive and dominating against a long and athletic South Carolina front court, exploiting a lack of double teams from the Gamecocks, who abandoned the typical approach to the brand of defense opposing teams have utilized against Saiz all season.

It was a fitting close and a nice sendoff for Saiz, playing in, potentially, his last game at The Pavilion. Sure, in the grand scheme, it didn’t mean all that much. Not yet, at least. Ole Miss still has a mountain to climb, but Saiz deserved a final game fitting of one of the best ever.

Sebastian Saiz (Paris Buchanan, @paris_buchanan)

He stood on the scorer’s table and saluted the fans once the final buzzer had sounded and the postgame handshakes were over — shades of another all-time great, Keith Carter, who’d done the same vs. Auburn in a game last century. 

He took it all in, a final moment to bring his Ole Miss career full circle. One last NCAA Tournament berth may or may not be in his future, but whatever the end result, Sebastian Saiz can hold his head high. 

He did all he could.

“The thing I will always remember is his presence and his approach and who he is,” Kennedy said. “He has a great spirit. He’s a positive kid, and he’s going to be very successful. He’s never had a bad day. He’s one of those kids you really want to cheer for.”

Quotable

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin

On Ole Miss and the NCAA Tournament: “When I sit and watch some of these teams that are supposedly on the bubble and they’ve got one Top 100 win, how is Ole Miss not in that conversation? How can those teams be in that conversation and Ole Miss not be spoken about as an NCAA Tournament team? It aggravates me. Andy Kennedy’s a dear friend. It makes no sense. It’s frustrating. I haven’t heard one single outlet mention them. They’re about to win 20 games again. Andy’s made a habit of winning 20 a year. It makes no sense to me.”

Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy

On the win: “They’re the No. 2 rated defensive efficiency team in America. They turn you over. We turn it over 17 times. Way too many. We made it. We shot the ball, man. We’re up 20, I knew they weren’t going to go away. We just had no bodies. It’s difficult for us to play big with Justas (Furmanavicius) at the three because they don’t guard (Marcanvis Hymon). When you hold a team under 36 percent from the field, you outbound them, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win.” On the absence of Deandre Burnett: “He took a knee to the thigh against Missouri. Didn’t miss any time. Obviously played against Alabama. I wasn’t real pleased with the way we executed (at Alabama). We practiced pretty diligently Thursday. He said his knee was bothering him. My knee’s bothering me, too. Game time decision, they tell me he can’t go. We’ll check him out thoroughly. I was planning on him playing tonight.” On the SEC tournament: “Tonight’s win got us to fifth in the league. I think we were predicted ninth. We finished fifth. We lose the tiebreaker to Alabama. We get either Auburn or Missouri, two teams we swept. Beating somebody three times is difficult to do. We’ve obviously beaten Auburn 10 times in a row. It’s not easy to beat somebody that many times in a row. We’ll certainly try on Thursday. If you can get one, you’d be amazed at how quickly you can build momentum. I’ve got great memories of Nashville. It’s not too long ago that we had a magical run. Does this team have one in it? I have no idea.”

Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz

On the NCAA Tournament: “We need more quality wins. I feel like if we can get one or two more, I think we can be in it.” On having success against South Carolina: “They didn’t double team me in the post. I was getting the ball and I was feeling comfortable with it. I got double teamed every single game this year. I understand, but I’ve got to play through it.” On playing in the NCAA Tournament: “It’s a great time. The experience is amazing. I try to tell all these guys it’s really hard to get in. We got in the last day (two years ago). It was a great experience. We’ve got to keep going and keep winning.”

Breein Tyree (USA Today images)

RECAP

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Sebastian Saiz was the guest of honor on Senior Night Saturday at The Pavilion at Ole Miss. 

The senior from Madrid, Spain, made his final home game a memorable one, scoring 21 points and grabbing 15 rebounds to lead Mississippi past South Carolina, 75-70. 

Freshman guard Breein Tyree added 19 points for Ole Miss (19-12 overall, 10-8 in the Southeastern Conference). SEC player of the year candidate Sindarius Thornwell led South Carolina (22-9, 12-6).

Ole Miss led by as many as 20 points early in the second half before South Carolina came charging back. The Gamecocks got within four points before Cullen Neal knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Rebels some breathing room. 

South Carolina closed to within four points twice more in the final minutes as Ole Miss missed four of its final six free throws but the Gamecocks ultimately couldn’t close the gap further. 

Ole Miss broke open a tight game and built an eight -point lead late in the first half, thanks to consecutive 3-pointers from senior guard Rasheed Brooks and a free throw from Saiz. The Rebels, courtesy of a baseline jumper from Tyree in the final seconds of the first half, led by 11 at intermission. 

Justas Furmanavicius had 12 points for Ole Miss. Neal added 11. P.J. Dozier had 13 for South Carolina. Hassani Gravett and Duane Notice had 10 points each for the Gamecocks.

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are likely headed to the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens next week at the SEC tournament. However, the loss at Ole Miss, while not a black mark, won’t help their seeding. 

Ole Miss: The Rebels likely have no hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Saturday’s win probably helped their National Invitation Tournament resume. 

UP NEXT

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have a bye until Friday in Nashville. South Carolina will face Alabama, LSU or Mississippi State in the SEC tournament quarterfinals. 

Ole Miss: The Rebels will play the Auburn-Missouri winner on Thursday night in the SEC tournament in Nashville. 

BOX SCORE

Ole Miss - South Carolina Box Score


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