Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 74-66 win over Alabama …
It was such a historic night for Ole Miss it was hard for everybody to think about the game.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy wasn’t in that crowd, however. Kennedy said he thought very much about the game and was as nervous last night, in his 320th game as Ole Miss coach, as he was almost three years ago when the Rebels took on Florida in Nashville for the SEC tournament championship.
Regardless of the outcome it was going to be a big night. The butt of facilities jokes at Ole Miss was darkened just across the street. Tad Smith Coliseum served its university for 50 years. It didn’t always serve well, but that’s what happens when buildings age.
Ole Miss should have come up with a plan for replacing Tad Smith sooner. It didn’t, and the arena seemed to go downhill faster at the end of its life.
The Pavilion is everything you would expect a $96.5 million investment to be. All the bells and whistles are in place.
Last night was a fantastic experience, the new normal for Ole Miss fans.
Someday someone else will build a new arena. Technology will change, and the Pavilion won’t be the next big thing.
That’s the nature of the facilities arms race, but right now Ole Miss basketball is the gold standard for SEC arenas.
Not surprisingly Ole Miss fans packed their new house last night. They didn’t just pack it. They engaged.
So stirred by the scene was Kennedy that he grabbed the mic right after the game to address the crowd, thanking them and asking them to continue to “bring the energy” and promising that the Rebels will do the same.
It was a great night.
Nothing will detract from the night, however, like a mediocre product, and that’s what the Rebels looked like when Alabama closed the first half on a 25-7 run. The Crimson Tide erased a 25-15 deficit to lead 40-32 at the break.
Alabama hit only two of its first eight shots but went on to 50 percent in the first half.
Ole Miss kept losing Arthur Edwards, one of the top 3-point shooters in the SEC, and Edwards was 4-for-5 from the arc in the first half.
Kennedy said he gave an animated talk to his players at halftime. Sebastian Saiz played down the halftime speech. Maybe he’s seen animation from Kennedy enough at this point in his career.
Ole Miss did a much better job with Edwards in the second half, limiting him to two 3-point attempts, one make. Most of that work was done by junior college transfer Rasheed Brooks.
At the end, the Rebels christened the Pavilion with a win because their two best players had monster games.
It’s going to take that from Saiz and Stefan Moody for Ole Miss to remain relevant in the SEC.
There was no help for Moody at Kentucky, and Ole Miss had a seven-game win streak snapped.
Last night Saiz was physical inside and effective at the rim, hitting 8 of 13 field goals for 61.5 percent. He completed his fifth double-double of the year with 13 rebounds.
The Tide denied Moody the ball in the first half, limiting him to four field goal attempts. Moody did a better job of getting to the rim in the second half. He didn’t always finish – just 3-for-9 from the floor – but was 13-for-16 from the free throw line.
Ole Miss overall isn’t as good a free throw shooting team as it was last year.
Last night that didn’t cost the Rebels. It was Moody getting to the line late, and Saiz hitting big shots.
There was more production from the supporting cast than there’s been too. Brooks’ short jumper with 4:07 left put the home team up by six. He finished 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting.
Tomas Gielo was 2-for-5 from the arc and finished with 12 points.
That’s the type of balanced scoring Ole Miss needs moving forward.
The Rebels looked stiff early and had three turnovers and three fouls by the first media timeout. At the end they fed off the energy of the opening night crowd.
Kennedy has never been a guy who’s been hard to read, always open and honest in interview situations.
Earlier this week he was more excited than I’ve seen him in a long time. He spoke frankly for the first time about the impact this new building can have on recruiting. And he spoke frankly about the fact the he and his staff have to step up to the challenging of rebuilding the talent and depth levels on this team.
Time will tell how recruiting plays out and if Ole Miss fans respond to Kennedy’s challenge and make The Pavilion at Ole Miss the tremendous environment every home game as it was against Alabama.
The next chance is Saturday night at 7:30 against Georgia.
For one game, at least, Ole Miss basketball was rocking in its own gym. That energy gave the Rebels a little boost at the end.
And while the night was really about the building, anything short of success would have been a real damper on the evening.
Kennedy says the Pavilion changes everything. Last night it looked like it really could.