Day After Observations

Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 75-74 win at South Carolina …

For starters, South Carolina isn’t very good, but the Gamecocks play hard, and that counts for a lot in college basketball and in any sport.

The Gamecocks were also missing junior guard Tyrone Johnson, a Villanova transfer, who was averaging 11.2 points and 3.4 assists. He was injured last Thursday at Texas A&M.

I’m not sure Johnson would have made a huge difference. He’s scored big in some games, not so big in others. He might have changed tempo a little bit, but South Carolina was already getting to the rim pretty good.

That was a big problem in the game for Ole Miss.

One big game from Sebastian Saiz — 20 points and nine rebounds against LSU — didn’t change the fact that Ole Miss is still suspect in the post. Whether the Rebels were playing zone or man, the Gamecocks got good looks really close to the rim, some with solid inside passing, some with penetration by its guards. They might have converted better if their international bigs were more athletic. From what I saw yesterday, Ole Miss’ international players > South Carolina’s international players.

The Gamecocks were physical on the perimeter, though. They did a good job of chasing Marshall Henderson and not giving him many clean looks. They also used bigger guys to guard Jarvis Summers, and I think that threw Summers off his game in the first half.

It looked like Andy Kennedy’s halftime message was about attacking the rim hard. That’s what Anthony Perez did, and that’s what Summers did with more success after halftime. He didn’t always convert, but he did get to the free throw line where he was 9-for-13, and six assists, one of them for a layup to Martavious Newby to give Ole Miss a 42-41 lead with 15:17 to play, the Rebels’ first lead in the second half after trailing by 10 at halftime.

There were nine ties and 12 lead changes in the game, most of them in the second half.

The fact that Henderson was able to knock down a couple of quick shots early in the second half was huge. It helped the Rebels ears the 10-point deficit quickly and not expend so much mental energy just trying to get back even in the game. As Kennedy noted, when they took the 1-point lead so early in the second half, their spirits seemed to brighten.

Having Perez have the game of his life was huge. His previous career-high was 14 points against Mississippi Valley last November. He came within two buckets of doubling that. He had nine in the first half, and that was reason for cautious optimism. Perez has had periods of good play before, but has not had a game where’s been so much the focal point of the offense.

When he got the ball in the second half he was looking to attack. He did have one big 3-pointer late, hitting a wide-open shot from the corner in front of the Ole Miss bench for a 71-68 lead with 2:04 to play. Otherwise, Perez looked very smooth in the flow of the game. Sometimes he forces things. Yesterday he had enough ball control and body control to finish the shot or get the foul call and get to the line, where he was 10-for-12. If he can do that moving forward — just get to the line and hit free throws — that will be a big lift for this team, one more guy who’s prone to have the ball in his hands who will be a threat to score at the line.

Foul trouble plagued Ole Miss across the frontcourt yesterday, and the Rebels had to have the game they got from Perez.

Because of his athleticism Aaron Jones will turn in a pretty impressive stat line in some games as he did against LSU with 13 points and 13 rebounds. He’s not going to be a guy for whom Kennedy draws up a play. Nor will Saiz be at this point.

But Perez will be. And unlike Saiz, Perez’ time in the program makes him a more realistic candidate to up his game more consistently, and if he becomes a bonafide third scorer, that will open up things for guys like Jones, who thrive on being open because someone else has drawn the defense’s attention.

The bottom line is any SEC road win is good, and the Rebels with more weapons and a better team lost at South Carolina last year.

It was an exciting finish for Ole Miss to rally and then make the critical plays late in the game.

But there’s a lot of growth that needs to occur for this team — which had 20 turnovers yesterday — to string together some wins in the SEC.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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