In a seesaw affair in which both teams struggled to get into a flow early, the Rebels staged a furious late-game comeback Monday night in Oxford to grind out a 90-88 victory over UMass. This is the second year in a row — and second time ever — that the teams have met, and Ole Miss has won both times.
With 3:30 remaining, the Minutemen led by 88-79 and appeared set to cruise down the stretch. Sebastian Saiz and the Rebs weren’t having any of that, however, finishing the game on an 11-0 run punctuated by this last-second tip-in:
That’s Friday night’s hero Deandre Burnett, who had remained quiet for much of the game, winding down the right side of the lane as Saiz finds himself in a pick-and-roll mismatch for the easy put-back. It was a clutch finish to a game that looked to be headed the other way for much of the second half. Going forward, here are three takeaways from this Rebel victory.
Saiz looked beastly down low.
Sebastian Saiz was active and aggressive in the paint, ripping down 19 boards and finishing with 22 points for his season’s first double-double. His ability to draw fouls was on display all night, as he shot 18 free throws and forced UMass into some foul trouble of their own. Three Minutemen finished with four personal fouls, with Donte Clark ultimately fouling out.
When Saiz is healthy he has the potential to be an All-SEC talent, as he possesses good size, sound footwork, and a number of well-developed post moves. His hook is noticeably improved from last season, and his ability to be a force down low will be vital for a Rebel team that lacks SEC size in the post.
Cullen Neal flashes potential.
After struggles last year forced him to transfer out of the New Mexico program coached by his dad, Neal showed bursts of the shooting ability that made him Mr. Basketball in New Mexico coming out of high school. His lightning-quick release was on display Monday night as he splashed four threes in a 21-point effort. He also dealt two assists and nabbed two steals, but his short shorts will undoubtedly be the talk of Oxford this week.
Foul trouble plagues everybody.
After giving up 83 points to the mighty Skyhawks of Tennessee-Martin, the Rebel roundballers looked to avoid the sloppiness that plagued in their Friday opener. The Rebels struggled once again with turnovers, but fouls proved to be their undoing in this matchup. The referees’ whistles howled all night as both teams combined for an eye-popping 57 fouls. The Rebels committed 28 of those, and Terence Davis fouled out with seven minutes remaining in the game. Clearly, the new freedom of movement rules seem to be having an effect, and the undersized Rebels have to find a way to stay out of foul trouble.
While it may not appear a marquee win at first glance, credit should be given to the Minutemen. They clearly possess a lot of young talent, highlighted by ESPN top-100 recruit Dejon Jarreau, who finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, six assists and a damn block for good measure. UMass certainly has the potential to make some noise in the A-10 this year, if not a return to the NCAA Tournament, which is always an expectation.
Ole Miss will travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands for their annual November tournament this year, where they’ll face off with Oral Roberts on Friday, Nov. 18.