Even within the binary context of wins and losses, outcomes in sports are always relative. So even though a trigger-happy Ole Miss squad struggled to put away Northwestern State through the middle portion of Friday night's season opener, their 90-76 win was a hell of a lot more encouraging than the first game from a year ago, when the Rebs dropped an overtime game to Charleston Southern.
The final 14-point deficit doesn't give adequate credit to the Demons, who climbed back from an early 12-point hole to keep it close for most of the game. Northwestern State pulled to within one possession three different times between the two minute mark of the first half and the 11 minute mark of the second half.
But a spurt of hot shooting and dominance down low from Sebastian Saiz helped Ole Miss cruise to a comfortable lead down the back stretch of the second half. At the end of the day, the Rebs beat what looks to be a very good Southland Conference squad by double digits. That's a pretty damn good way to kick off 2015-16.
Here are a few quick observations.
More Saiz, please.
Sebastian Saiz was a force down low, posting his third career double-double with a 16-point, 14-rebound night. As the only true big man on this roster, the Rebs are completely reliant on his play this season, and Friday night was an excellent start.
But, there were long swaths of the game where Ole Miss got away from feeding Saiz in the paint and started jacking up perimeter shots (they shot 28 threes in the game). That Northwestern State's first-half rally coincided with the Rebs' abrupt proclivity for the perimeter jumper is not surprise.
This was one of the few opponents on the schedule that Ole Miss held a size advantage, so it would have been nice to see them go to the paint more often. But the fact of the matter is that this team is going to live and die by the perimeter shot, so we might as well get used to it.
The defense was better than anticipated.
AK called his team's perimeter defense "awful" after the exhibition last week, which is probably giving it too much credit. But against Northwestern State -- a team that led the entire NCAA in scoring last season and averaged 42 points a game between star guards Jalan West and Zeek Woodley -- the Rebs did a much better job, particularly in the first half: the Demons hit just 28 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes.
After an 0-of-3 start, West ended up catching fire in the second half with a six threes, giving he and Woodley 47 combined points on the game. But there's only so much you can do against great shooters, and I thought the Rebs were much sounder on the perimeter than they were a week ago.
Moody balled out as usual, tying a career-high with 29 points. He finished 10-of-23 from the floor, 4-of-11 from deep and 5-of-6 from the free throw line, throwing in five rebounds and five assists for good measure.