Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 88-74 overtime win over LSU …
Going into the LSU game Sebastian Saiz told us he was “ready” for the challenge of more minutes and a different role after Andy Kennedy talked about moving away from veteran frontcourt players — mostly Demarco Cox — and to his younger guys.
Because age and experience often lead to skepticism I was not quick to agree that Saiz was ready. However, against LSU he looked ready with 20 points and nine rebounds and was much more aggressive and physical on offense than he’s shown this season.
I had seen enough to believe that Saiz could develop into a much better offensive player than he’d shown. I wasn’t ready to believe it was going to be last night, and I’m hesitant to jump on board and think we’ll see that type of performance consistently.
I also don’t think we’ll see a guy who is a non-factor offensively. What a great starting point and what a confidence jolt for a freshman. His 20 points were almost five times his regular out-put since he went into the game averaging 4.4 points.
Here’s what Saiz had to say postgame:
While Saiz was the frontcourt man of the hour, Cox looked energized too. The reality for Cox, though, is his role is changing, and it won’t change back unless his production begins to warrant that change.
I’ve written about the need for Ole Miss to develop that third scorer to help Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers. Last night that was Saiz, and while LaDarius White is the obvious candidate, it’s OK if the support scoring is done by committee … as long as it’s done, and last night it was.
White followed his Mississippi State performance with a much more average game, just 2-for-6 from the floor. He was 1-for-3 from 3, but the shot was a huge, connecting from the corner when LSU had a five-point lead with 2:16 left in regulation and was determined not to give up a shot to Henderson or Summers.
While White took only six shots, he did seem to look for his shot, trying to get to the rim. His number of field goal attempts can fluctuate based on who’s hot, but the Rebels desperately need White to be an efficient offensive player and to deliver at key times … like he did last night.
Aaron Jones’ athleticism continues to help him fill out a stat line. He finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes. He was 6-for-12 shooting. He’s not a guy they’re going to run a play through, and he needs to be more physical at the rim, but there’s always a place for a guy who gets his hands on the ball. Jones’ biggest play was tipping Saiz’ missed free throw out to Henderson who knocked down the 3 in overtime. That’s when the game really turned Ole Miss’ way. The Rebels had a two-point lead when Saiz scored down low and drew a foul. His free throw miss was kept alive by Jones, and Henderson knocked down the 3. That was a five-point possession and a seven-point advantage when LSU called time with 2:47 left in the OT.
In addition to noteworthy individual performances, the Rebels made the changes they had to make defensively from the MSU game to the LSU game.
The cut off the Tigers’ penetration lanes and forced them to hit the outside shot. Beyond a hot streak by Andre Stringer early in the second half, LSU was not able to answer that call. Had the Rebels been as locked in defensively at MSU, they’d be 3-0 in the league right now.
The Rebels’ zone defense clearly bothered the Tigers’ frontcourt tandem of Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey, who went into the game averaging almost 26 combined points but were held to a combined eight points on 2-for-10 shooting. That’s not to say O’Bryant didn’t impact the game at times, he did, but the Rebels’ zone defense was effective.
Speaking of defense, Henderson may have made a bid to become the team’s “stopper” last night. He’s not known for his defense but forced LSU guard Anthony Hickey into a miss when the Tigers clearly got the matchup they wanted in a tie game with the shot clock off at the end of regulation.
Henderson’s game (25 points, 6-for-12 3, 7 assists) was memorable, but the biggest thing to come from last night was a pulse in the frontcourt.
That’s what this team had to have and what will help it most if it can duplicate that effort moving forward to a road game at South Carolina Saturday.