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Ole Miss vs. Virginia Tech basketball: Rebels fall on the road, 80-75

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The Rebels drop to 6-3 with conference play fast approaching.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

A close first half of basketball gave way to a lopsided second half, as poor shooting and defense doomed the Ole Miss Rebels late against the Virginia Tech Hokies in a 80-75 loss on the road. Ole Miss, who fell to 6-3 on the season, kept most of the game close. The Rebels went into the halftime break trailing 33-32 and maintained a close contest through the first seven minutes of the second half, before a three minute scoring drought and a 9-point Virginia Tech run put the game out of reach. The Rebels did push a late comeback, making the game a one-possession affair with under a minute to go, but missed key shots and turned the ball over to thwart their own efforts.

The Rebels were led by Sebastian Saiz’s 21 points and Terence Davis’ 19 points/12 boards double-double. Saiz’s plodding efficiency and Davis’ quick athleticism combined to keep pace throughout the contest. The duo’s efforts were supplemented with Cullen Neal’s 12 points off of the bench, who saw plenty of opportunities to spell for starter Breein Tyree who is still reportedly recovering from an offseason ACL injury.

Still, it was not enough to overcome a Virginia Tech team that shot 46.4% from the floor, led by Ahmed Hill’s 20 points and Zach LeDay’s 15.

The outcome is not too particularly damning, as Virginia Tech is a senior-laden team led by a more-than-capable Buzz Williams that has already made some early noise this college basketball season. But a road win would against a good ACC team would have done a lot for Ole Miss’ thus far “meh” NCAA Tournament resume, and with few OOC opportunities remaining, Ole Miss will likely need to outperform expectations in conference play to earn a bid to the big dance.

Here’s what we learned from Ole Miss’ loss in Blacksburg.

This team lacks cohesion but competes on athleticism.

Do not mistake this Virginia Tech for the Virginia Tech basketball program you may remember from, oh, any point in college basketball history. From our preview:

Virginia Tech has looked spunky out of the gate. The Hokies picked up a pair of back-to-back wins over Big Ten opponents last month, a 66-53 drubbing of Nebraska and a 73-70 barn-burner over Michigan in Ann Arbor. Tech’s lone loss on the year came at the hands of Texas A&M, last year’s SEC Tournament champ.

Ole Miss played a close contest against an experienced ACC team on the road. What the Rebels were not able to match in experience and chemistry, they made up for with athleticism. Yes, that describes pretty much every Andy Kennedy team since his second or third year in Oxford, but this team is almost a stereotype of that mold. Unlike more recent Ole Miss teams, this Basketbears iteration lacks the star/villain power of a Stefan Moody, Chris Warren, or Marshall Henderson, and does not suffer from a lack of scoring options off of the bench. They have, and will continue, to give folks fits by running a small army of capable shooters and handlers out of the locker room before every game, and if they can find the sort of rhythm of a more experienced team then they can pull off an upset or two in SEC play.

Terence Davis! Glad you’re on the basketball team!

If you did not know of Terence Davis the high school all-everything, let us remind you that he played wide receiver for the Mississippi all-Star team in the MS/AL contest a few years back and considered playing wideout for the Ole Miss football team. That sort of athleticism - namely the running and jumping bit - is playing off tremendously for the Ole Miss basketball team. Yeah, he’s wont to do things like botch a wacky 360-dunk attempt against Memphis for no reason (we never forget), but his ability to fire off quick perimeter shots and outmaneuver less-athletic guards for rebounds will make him indispensable for this basketball program for the foreseeable future.

This team goes nowhere without Sebastian Saiz

The big man from Spain is leading the SEC with 11.5 rebounds a game, and pulled down nine of them against the Hokies today. A couple of odd fouls aside, he gave this team the smart, veteran presence it needed to keep up with this Virginia Tech team. His deliberate, disciplined style of play is, oh, let’s call it “different” from what seemingly everyone else in a Rebel uniform is doing out there. Do not interpret this as a complaint, however. His ability to score underneath and extend possessions with timely rebounds allows his teammates to play with the floor-stretching athleticism we expect from an Andy Kennedy team. It works, and it works because Saiz gives the game a pace and deliberation it needs to work.

The Rebel Roundballers have Murray State next for a date this Thursday in Oxford. The Racers are 4-5 so far on the year, making that contest much less of a “must win” and more of a “must not lose” for an Ole Miss team that has realistic hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth. After that, the Rebels only have two non-conference games remaining until a December 29th SEC-opener against Kentucky in the Pavilion.