On a night in which the theme was not Randy Kennedy-related, but more along the lines of "Honk if you fouled out," Ole Miss used a heavy dose of offensive rebounding and free throws to offset a bad shooting night, earning an 85-78 win over Vanderbilt. While Ole Miss struggled at times to defend Vanderbilt's forward combination of Luke Kornet and Damian Jones, the Rebels grabbed 19 offensive rebounds over that pair (among others), which made a 35.8 field goal percentage not as devastating as it should have been.
Early on, it looked as though Vanderbilt would slowly and steadily carve Ole Miss' defense into tiny, symmetrical pieces, but the aforementioned Damian Jones got into foul trouble, which kept him on the bench and the Rebels' defense from being stretched so thin. Without Jones playing for long stretches, most notably when he fouled out with 8:05 to play, Ole Miss got back in the game and eventually took control, despite Stefan Moody's 5-of-25 shooting (BUT 23 points).
While Moody was working his way out of a shooting slump by shooting even more, AS SHOOTERS DO, Tomasz Gielo helped keep the Ole Miss offense from drowning in a sea of clangs off the rim, adding 16 points before fouling out. Speaking of fouling out, five players fouled out (Gielo and Anthony Perez for Ole Miss; Jones, Jeff Roberson, and Wade Baldwin for Vanderbilt) in a game that saw 56 total fouls.
That many fouls led to free throws for everyone, and Ole Miss took advantage, hitting 27 out of 38, which earned them 10 more points than Vanderbilt, who converted 17 out of 27 attempts (Moody was awful from the floor, but did go 10-of-10 at the line). Throw in 19 Vanderbilt turnovers (only 10 for Ole Miss), and the Rebels created a basketball win that's the equivalent of 200 yards of total offense with three defensive touchdowns.
Ole Miss is now 15-8 (5-5 SEC) and showing more signs of life than they probably should be, considering the hand they've been dealt this season. Andy Kennedy and staff deserve a tip of the hat from everyone (assuming this is the late 1800's and we're all wearing fancy hats) for not letting this season jackknife straight into a drainage ditch.
Other than Kennedy and company being pretty good at their jobs, let's run through three things we learned tonight.
1. Stefan Moody looked more like pre-injury Stefan Moody
Yes, the shooting performance was dreadful, but this game was the first time we've seen him be much more aggressive, particularly at the defensive end, since his injury. Some of the three-point attempts he took in the first half were just silly, which added to his poor shooting night, but he looks like he's close to returning to the dynamic offensive player we need him to be.
2. The frontcourt is currently being held together by that duct tape NASCAR uses
If you've ever watched a NASCAR race, especially at a place like Talladega, cars that get out of wrecks without catastrophic damage will limp into pit row with their exteriors all out of place. To keep them out on the track and still earning points, pit crews will smash the car's exterior back into place and then slap duct tape on the car to hold it together for the rest of the race.
This duct tape is made to handle speeds of over 200 miles an hour. Without Sebastian Saiz, the Ole Miss frontcourt is a body in need of NASCAR duct tape to keep it from breaking apart. Through a blend of Andy Kennedy's juggling act, Marcanvis Hymon's improvement, and Jake Coddington stealing minutes, the frontcourt hasn't collapsed and knocked Ole Miss out of the race (insert 30 seconds of thanking the sponsors).
3. Let's all get a rebound
Despite a lack of size, Ole Miss had a rebounding advantage of 44 to 41 over Vanderbilt. Resounding shout-out, then, to Rasheed Brooks (nine rebounds), Martavious Newby, (also nine) and Hymon (eight) for 26 of those 44. As a reminder, Brooks and Newby are guards, which is what a team that lacks size must have out of its guards.
Brooks, who also added 15 points, got all nine of his rebounds on the defensive end. Since Ole Miss plays so much zone, defensive rebounding like that is a huge boost to being able to continue playing zone defense, which isn't the best defense to prevent offensive rebounds.