Ole Miss' hoopsters didn't quite take one on the chin in Gainesville, but Tuesday's 77-72 loss to Mike White's Florida Gators stings by no means less than January's bedwetting at The Pavilion. This season's second meeting between the Rebels and Reptiles held a glimmer of promise for Andy Kennedy and company, insofar as Sebastian Saiz returned to roundball active duty following a six-game hiatus.
After trading jabs through the opening three-or-so minutes, the night's proceedings remained locked at seven, then nine a piece until Florida dumped off a 13-3 run in the period's middle stretch for a 22-12 advantage. Stefan Moody earned two fouls by the 13-minute mark and sat for a couple of minutes before returning to lip in a basket in traffic, but he soon drew a contact penalty with 8:30 remaining and so watched the remainder of the half from the comfort of the bench.
Moody's first-half absence was surprisingly unproblematic, however, as Ole Miss stormed back to even things up at 29 with two minutes left before recess, but the wheels thence fell off the Rebel bus, allowing a 7-0 Florida run to close out the window.
Ole Miss stormed out in the second half astride an 11-1 run, but two quick answering threes from Dorian Finney-Smith and Devin Robinson stifled the Rebs' momentum. From there, Florida slowly simmered beyond the arc and, accompanied by a strong showing from John Egbunu down low, eventually enforced their will. Moody fouled out angrily with 1:09 to go, and after a dagger three from KeVaughn Allen, garbage time gradually prevailed.
The Rebels fall to 15-9 (5-6 SEC) on the year, and AK can feel no kinda happy about the team's NCAA Tournament chances. Ole Miss has no signature wins to speak of, and their most glaring losses -- to George Mason and Seton Hall -- grow less egregious and more indicative by the week. Upcoming games include Arkansas in Oxford and No. 15 Texas A&M in
Tartarus College Station, so even winning out does little for the Rebs' tournament résumé, such as it is.
Here are three things we learned from Tuesday's face-plant in Gainesville.
1. Saiz ain't at 100 percent yet.
This is to be expected. Dude wasn't even allowed to shoot a basketball until yesterday's clearance, let alone run, dribble, or lightly bump into doorjams. I mean, he was apparently still dealing with light exposure or pupil dilation or something Tuesday.
Ole Miss forward Sebastian Saiz, who missed last 6 games after eye surgery, will wear dark glasses vs Gators pic.twitter.com/KIXOZG9Rxd— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) February 10, 2016
The handicap showed, inasmuch as his overall aggression around the rim was virtually nonexistent -- he finished with six rebounds, five of which were on the defensive end -- and his target as an inside distribution point was a non-factor. It's to be expected that the other four guys on the floor may feel queasy pushing the ball down under to him, having not worked out with the big man since before MLK Day. Give him time; he's only a junior.
2. Tomasz Gielo, sometime Polish menace?
With Moody on and off the bench, and with Rasheed Brooks all but disappearing in the second half, the Eastern Block came up huge in the losing effort. My man led all Rebel scorers with 20 points, nine of which came from out in the county, alongside eight boards, two assists and two steals. Even so, Gielo only seems to pop off when others are floundering around him, but it's nevertheless been a welcome sight to see him dig in through the conference stretch this year. That leap from the Big South to the SEC isn't easy, to be sure.
3. Scoring droughts are hamstringing this team.
Find a game log from this season that doesn't include an Ole Miss dead period of at least three minutes in the first half. It can't be done. Further, the team's scoring droughts always seem to begin and end with Moody. My guy didn't park a basket until 10 minutes into Tuesday's game, and even then, that score accounted for all two of his first half points.
Which gives rise to another related issue, here: with all things offense funneling ultimately through Moody, AK's plan of attack has become severely one dimensional this season. Part of this is of necessity, of course. Moody is the veteran leader, the sharp-shooting wolverine, he who can just take things over seemingly at will. And yet, without other viable threats around him, the Floridas of the world can one-on-one check Stef hard all game long, disrupting his off-the-ball movement -- or drawing five fouls out of him -- so that the guy cracks under the weight and frustratedly fouls out.
Still, he'll always be good for one of these:
gracious. stefan moody behind the back and three FROM THE DAMN GATOR'S TEETH https://t.co/rENFVUK5W2— jim lohmar (@jimlohmar) February 10, 2016
This Ole Miss club is always already a work in progress, and down the stretch heading into the SEC Tournament, it'll be interesting to see how, or if, they can band together, because those games in Nashville are gonna be no joke at all.