Unlike the football version of the Aggies, who started slow and shifted to a crawl of incomplete passes and three-and-outs against Ole Miss, the basketball Aggies snapped out of a Tuesday evening stroll and ran away from the Rebels, 71-56. The loss was an especially brutal one for Ole Miss, both in the way Texas A&M pounded the Rebels in the paint and extinguished the daytime fireworks flicker of NCAA Tournament hopes.
Early on, things looked quite promising, as Stefan Moody and Tomasz Gielo (how does he not have a good nickname yet?; I BLAME ALL OF YOU) were somewhat warm from behind the three-point line, combining for 7 of the Rebels' 17 first-half attempts. But as the half wore on, Texas A&M began to dominate around the basket, offensively and defensively.
The second half saw more of the same, as the Aggies kept scoring from in close and kept Ole Miss from doing the same, pushing the Rebels into jump shots, which are not one of the strengths of this team. Texas A&M finished with a +14 rebounding advantage and a +16 point advantage on two-point field goals, and when one adds that to Ole Miss' 1-of-13 second-half three-point performance and 10 total free throws (but they made 6!), it does not offer good odds for a Rebel win.
The loss drops Ole Miss to 16-10 (6-7 SEC) and now puts all hopes of an NCAA bid on running the table at the SEC Tournament. OR, if you're wildly optimistic, winning out, hoping for catastrophic losses for dozens of other teams, and reaching the SEC Tourney finals might be another path to the NCAA Tournament. DARE TO DREAM, FRIENDS.
The good news for Ole Miss is that the schedule the rest of the way is against the bottom portion of the SEC standings, save for Georgia. But make no mistake, a 5-0 finish has to happen if there's any chance at that wildly optimistic dream.
How about three things we learned from this Tuesday night of zero fun? Okay, let's do it.
1. Stefan Moody has more help available than he probably thinks.
Earlier in the season, when Moody was the only consistently effective offensive player, he could try any and all things to score and no one would care. But, as the season has progressed, his teammates have gotten better, which means he doesn't need to try the 30-foot threes with large chunks of time still left on the shot clock.
Since returning from his injury, Moody is 35-110 from the floor (31.8 percent) and 23-71 from three (32.3 percent). There are other offensive options at his disposal, and he needs to let them help him do the offensive lifting.
2. On a positive note, Tomasz Gielo!
After struggling for most of conference play, the Polish product (not a great nickname option, but something for consideration, given what else has been offered) has averaged 16.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in his last five games. As someone who did lots of hollerin' every time he took a shot earlier in conference play, this is an extremely welcome addition to Ole Miss' offense.
3. This season will probably be remembered as one of "what ifs."
Injuries happen to all teams, but usually not to its two best players on a thin, inexperienced team. Had Stefan Moody and Sebastian Saiz not been injured, there's a pretty strong chance we're discussing a potential seed in the NCAA Tournament right now. Alas.
Instead, we'll probably have to settle for eating prime rib or Raising Cane's while hosting an NIT game. Not the worst way to spend the last part of March.