Overlooked due to Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss football team getting croots on croots on croots earlier in the day, the Ole Miss basketball team actually played Missouri Wednesday night and emerged from a lightly filled arena in Columbia with a 76-73 win. While there were many moments in the second half when it looked like Ole Miss was spiraling towards the worst loss of the season, the Rebels were able to scratch out a win, despite trailing by four with 1:03 to play.
Ole Miss, now 14-8 (4-5 SEC), relied on Stefan Moody's 23 points (ho-hum) and 8 rebounds, as well as Tomasz Gielo and Rasheed Brooks waking up from their comas of funk, to come back to Oxford with a glimmer of hope left in the season. Tomasz Gielo scored 16 points, with two SIGNIFICANTLY IMPORTANT threes in the final 1:33, and Brooks added 15 points that were primarily the result of 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc.
The Rebels needed these bursts of unexpected offense because Missouri decided to pretend like they weren't a 1-7 team in the SEC, hitting 7 out of 9 three-point attempts in the second half after going 3-of-18 in the first half. Throw in 17 Ole Miss turnovers, and the degree of difficulty for the Rebels to get a win jumped up exponentially.
This win was, without any understatement, the biggest of the season for Ole Miss basketball. If the Rebs lost this game, what little interest that still existed in basketball would've vanished like a defensive lineman or linebacker target in an Ole Miss football recruiting class.
The NCAA Tournament is still a tremendous long shot, but if this team can somehow get healthy, they'll give themselves a chance. Maybe not a good one, but they can close out the season with some momentum and, perhaps, at least make life difficult for other SEC teams trying to claw their way into the tournament.
Now let's take a look at three things we learned on this night of avoiding a catastrophic loss.
1. Please get better, Sebastian Saiz's eye
Given their limitations, whether it's experience, size, or talent, Ole Miss forwards not named Sebastian Saiz have played reasonably well while Saiz recovers from eye surgery. Marcanvis Hymon in particular has shown that he has the potential to be a good contributor over the next few years.
But, if we're going to have some REAL TALK around here, it is unreasonable to expect the Basketbears to perform consistently at a high level without Saiz as the anchor. We need that Saiz eyeball to get better yesterday.
2. Please get better, Stefan Moody's hamstring
The same goes for Moody's uncooperative hamstring. Because he's so good at scoring, maintaining his dribble, and using his physical strength, he's still a really effective player even with his injury. However, it's obvious he's not the same guy he was prior to the injury against South Carolina.
We desperately need that hamstring to get in gear. For one, it gives this team its only real shot at the NCAA Tournament, but it also would give us, the fans, a few more games with Moody at the peak of his powers, which would be a pretty nice treat.
3. Please do that again, Rasheed Brooks and Tomasz Gielo
It's been a brutal last few games for Brooks and an entire conference schedule full of misery for Gielo, but both became the scorers we need them to be tonight. Without Gielo's two three-pointers in the final 90-ish seconds, this Ole Miss basketball season would've ended in the eyes of most fans.
Ole Miss needs their outside shooting (8-of-14 from three tonight) in order to make life easier for Stefan Moody and, when he returns, Sebastian Saiz in the post.