It wasn't quite as smooth as it probably should have been, but Ole Miss basketball picked up an easy 103-87 win in its exhibition game against DII Clayton State on Thursday night, the final warmup before the games start counting next Friday. After heading into halftime with an 18 point lead, an "atrocious" (Andy Kennedy's words) Rebel defense allowed Clayton State to shoot over 60 percent from the floor in the second half and cut the lead to single digits multiple times.
But at the end of the night, Ole Miss walked out of the gym with a comfortable win, which is all that really matters in a tune-up like this (as opposed to pulling a St. John's and losing by 32). AK is breaking in a lot of new players and spent most of that rocky second half shuttling in backups and tinkering with lineups, which he said in his postgame presser probably had a lot to do with the defensive inconsistency down the stretch.
There were plenty of positive takeaway from the night, so let's take a look at a few of them.
Stefan Moody is feeling fine, thank you.
In case you forgot, the SEC's leading returning scorer had to undergo surgery for a stress fracture in his leg five months ago. You wouldn't have known from watching Moody on Thursday night: he dropped 25 points in just 22 minutes of play, going 3-of-5 from downtown and 10-of-11 from the free throw line.
"He bounces back not unlike Laquon Treadwell," Andy Kennedy said a couple weeks ago. "I mean, something that could have devastating to a normal person -- you're shocked at the level that they come back and the speed that they come back. He's had no ill effects whatsoever."
We have a full-fledged point guard controversy on our hands.
Kennedy said in his press conference two weeks ago that JUCO transfer Sam Finley would start at the point if the season started that day, but it was true freshman J.T. Escobar that took the court first on Thursday. Escobar, who spent last season at a prep school waiting for Ole Miss' logjam of senior guards to clear out, put up seven points and four assists in 19 minutes. Finley came on strong in the second half, finishing with 21 points and two assists in 21 minutes.
But AK didn't sound all that impressed by Finley's point total.
"I'm not asking our point guard to have to come in and do what Sam did tonight and score 21 points," AK said postgame. "I need my point guard to deliver the ball in a timely fashion and be solid defensively and J.T. has done a good job this past week of earning this opportunity. It's a race. I feel like half the football coaches with this whole quarterback, who's gonna start and who's not. So that'll be an ongoing battle over the next five or six practices leading into our opener on the 13th."
Keep in mind that both of these guys have spent most of their basketball lives as scoring two-guards and are still adjusting to playing at the true point position.
This Polish dude can ball.
How about Tomasz Gielo? The graduate transfer out of Liberty scored 12 in the first half and finished with 15 points, three rebounds and three steals in 25 minutes. The guy has all the tools to be a dangerous stretch-four in AK's run 'n' gun offense: he has size (6'9, 228 pounds) but can run the floor (he flushed two breakaway dunks) and shoot from outside (he shot 40 percent from deep over three seasons at Liberty and went 3-of-5 on Thursday).
How much of a freak is this guy? Stefan Moody, a dude that can jump out of the damn gym, called Gielo the most athletic guy on the team. AK said he intentionally limited Gielo's role on Thursday so he wouldn't "tip [his] hand," so expect the offense to run through him a lot more once the games matter.