Late in the second half of Tuesday's overtime 77-74 loss to South Carolina at The Pavilion, Stefan Moody appeared to pull up on a fast-break alley-oop that left him hobbled on his left leg for the reminder of the match. Young Moody had played brilliantly to that point, pouring in 24 points on 4-of-9 shooting from downtown with five assists, but the ding proved too much to bear on the Rebels' ace in the loss. This is not good news.
Tuesday's loss brings Ole Miss to 12-6 (2-4 SEC) on the year, and it dumps a second-straight home loss on the pile that is quickly gaining momentum away from the NCAA Tournament.
With Sebastian Saiz and Martavious Newby out due to retina injuries, Anthony Perez got the start at the three-man spot and delivered early by draining all four of his attempts from beyond the arc. Perez's last there came in the midst of a sneaky little seven-point run toward the end of the first half. The highlight of that sequence was of course Moody's half-ending solo push and bomb, but the Rebs were ticking after 20 minutes and carried a 10-point lead into halftime, 39-29
The Rebs' defense -- a serious liability so far this year -- at times suffered frustrating boondoggles punctuated by real stops throughout the game. Ole Miss' containment worked best out of the 2-3 high trap with Moody on the ball in the half court. Cocky was forced to probe the perimeter and elbows, which took away significant chunks of their shot clocks. The Rebel defense in these cases was surprising, given that everyone donned new roles with Saiz and Newby out for the proceedings.
Still, with Moody going down, everyone's marks and assignments went haywire, and that dissolution proved fatal in the end. Here are three things we learned from the overtime loss.
1. Anthony Perez, Man of Mystery
Following a remarkably terrible production stretch from Anthony Perez the last month, Andy Kennedy had a bit of criticism for AP after the Georgia game:
Pretty telling quote from Andy Kennedy on Anthony Perez: "He's one of the greatest mysteries in my 20 years of coaching."— Ben Garrett (@SpiritBen) January 17, 2016
Mystery indeed, insofar as Perez might hand in a random night of sharp-shooting on occasion. As he did on Tuesday.
The problem here is that AP can't turn in this sort of work consistently. Whether it's a mental issue and he can't get himself engaged enough to contribute when everyone's healthy or just sheer erraticism from night to night, Perez hasn't found the rhythm necessary for a viable threat from the wing. His length renders him a solid, if meandering, defender, but with the Rebs' defense as porous as it's been, guys have gotta outscore opponents straight up.
2. Moody is now in the 1,000-point club
It's given that all the Rebs' offense flows through Stefan Moody. That said, Cocky certainly entered the game ready for Stef and his 24 points per night. Sindarius Thornwell checked him on the lion's share of Ole Miss' possessions, but Moody would not be denied his 1,000 career points.
A great player like Moody also knows when to open up the other guys around him, especially when he's drawing double and at time triple teams, or when he feels the defense draw to him on the run up.
This is the sort of production that will be missed should Stef have to miss serious time with whatever's happening in his leg. On numerous possessions he would pass off the point and fade back toward mid-court, thus drawing his man out of the play.
Without Moody, apparently Rasheed Brooks becomes the go-to shooter, never mind his 10 drunken misses from the floor, and never mind that Carolina decided that guarding him on the left wing wasn't a good use of their time, since he was just going to miss from over there six damn times anyway.
3. What is this team's identity?
Especially now that Moody may be looking at an injury. Stef looked pretty alright off the pick-and-pop Tuesday, his preferred means of attack, though he is getting more comfortable off the dribble. When Perez is humming that opens up damn near everyone on the floor, but "Perez" and "humming" need not appear in the same sentence but twice a year.
Tomasz Gielo played promising basketball earlier in the season, but he's struggled shooting of late, especially behind the arc. Tuesday's was the second game in two weeks that he opened all Rebel scoring with a trey only to fall asleep afterward. With Saiz out, and thus lukewarm options for Moody to distribute, Ole Miss' game becomes hurky-jerky.
Such loss of flow translates to overall rhythm woes, as well. Even 10 or 12 or 14 points leads aren't safe in the hands of Andy Kennedy's guys this year. One never senses that these Rebs can throw down the hammer and just work a team over. There's too much hesitation on the floor from guys not named Sebas or Stef, and the cracks are opening wider by the week.