There's little more frustrating yet distinctly fitting about Ole Miss basketball than late-season horror shows in winnable games. Which is exactly what transpired Saturday in Athens as the Rebel hoopmen dropped a whistle-filled slopper of a loss to Georgia, 80-66. Anthony Perez -- yes, him -- led all Rebel scorers with 19 points on 5-of-10 shooting with three bombs from out in the county.
Riding a downright awful opening 10 minutes by Ole Miss, Georgia sprinted out to an early 27-16 lead. The Rebels committed five turnovers on their first 10 possessions and their 2-3 zone found it impossible to nab a defensive rebound. The Rebels' defensive struggles grew so dire that Andy Kennedy ended up benching Stefan Moody with about three minutes remaining in the first period, which proved to be a helpful strategy as Ole Miss closed the first half on a 16-6 run.
The Basketbears began the second half in calmer fashion, with Moody, Martavious Newby and Tomasz Gielo all connecting from downtown, but a brief cold spell midway through the period saw Georgia claw back to a 59-55 advantage. From there, the Rebs and Dawgs traded blows in a foul-laden closing stretch, until Georgia reached the bonus on fouls and Ole Miss just forgot how to play real basketball.
The Rebels scored eight whole points in the final nine minutes, which says really all you need to know about how things went down in Stegeman Coliseum Saturday. In any case, here are three takeaways from the day's proceedings, which likely spell the end of whatever glimmer Ole Miss had of making the NCAA Tournament.
1. The Rebs' zone defense got roasted.
Andy Kennedy's variety in defensive calls can often work to the Rebs' advantage, but Georgia's outside game exposed the 2-3 zone early and often. The Bulldogs' Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier found themselves in space just outside the Rebs' shape on too many occasions allowing them to set their feet and drain shots from outside. Further, zone defenses often don't allow for targeted defensive rebounding, a blind spot that Georgia exploited for 14 offensive boards.
Where the high trap worked wonderfully against Mizzou, Georgia's midcourt possession game was exponentially better. Gaines and Frazier are experienced, fast and agile, a luxury that prevented Ole Miss from fully setting the defense at times. With Georgia's guards hot and uncaring about pulling up early in their shot clocks, AK's defensive wizardry was wholly absent Saturday.
2. Stefan Moody had a teachable moment.
After going off against Missouri last Tuesday, Moody had one his more frustrating afternoons in recent memory. He fouled out with about two minutes left in the game, but not before AK benched him late in the first half for a lack of effort on defense. Coach was barking all the way down Moody's ear before pulling him, and the advice seemed to take hold early in the second half, but five frustration fouls ended Moody's day after 15 points, five assists and four turnovers.
This one'll certainly leave a sour taste in everybody's mouth, most especially for Coach and Moody, who both were visibly frustrated with the team's showing.
3. Second-half fouls doomed Ole Miss.
The Rebs committed 15 personal fouls in the second period, which yielded 18 Bulldog points from the charity stripe. Missouri's inside game was virtually nonexistent earlier in the week, but Georgia's experience and ability to penetrate with speed drew Sebastian Saiz and Anthony Perez into contact for some costly penalties.
Whether the overall shitter of a game was due to the Rebels' body clocks feeling off -- tipoff was at 11 a.m. CT -- or just one of those days doesn't ultimately matter. They played atrocious basketball in a must-win scenario and must now regroup before hosting Mississippi State next Wednesday.