By Parrish Alford
COLUMBIA, S.C. – When his team needed him most, Anthony Perez became the next unlikely member of the Ole Miss frontcourt to get the job done.
Freshman Sebastian Saiz, so effective in the Rebels’ overtime win against LSU on Thursday, fouled out with only 15 minutes of play, as did junior Aaron Jones.
It was Perez who delivered the day’s frontcourt surprise with a career-high 22 points as Ole Miss rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit Saturday to beat the Gamecocks 75-74 before 14,301 fans at Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks aggressively pursued Marshall Henderson and held him to a sub-par shooting night, but Ole Miss went strong to the rim in the second half to off-set Carolina’s physicality on the perimeter.
Ole Miss led by five points with 37 seconds remaining but had to survive a game-winning shot attempt by South Carolina with 1.8 seconds left.
Demarco Cox became the Rebels’ third post player to foul out, and Perez had to play most of the game at the big forward spot where his 6-foot-9 height is compatible, but his slender frame is not.
The second half was about attack, attack, attack for the Rebels (12-5, 3-1 SEC).
“Oh yeah, yeah, we talked about that at halftime,” Perez said. “That’s what we tried to do We did a better job with it.”
The difference for Perez, he said, was getting a couple of shots to fall in the first half when he had nine points in 14 minutes.
“I started making shots, got some steals and rebounds, and I started feeling confident in the game. The games before I was missing shots, getting out of my head, out of focus,” he said.
The Gamecocks (7-10, 0-4) had a key three-point swing in the final 37 seconds.
Henderson hit one free throw to put the Rebels up 74-69. He missed the second, and with almost no time burning off the clock, Perez fouled Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell, who hit both free throws.
The Gamecocks cut the lead to one with Henderson throwing the ball in under the Carolina basket with 6.0 seconds left.
Ole Miss could not in-bounds the ball. Henderson’s pass to mid-court resulted in a scramble, and possession to the Gamecocks with 1.8 seconds on the clock. Thornwell, who was 4 for 7 from 3-point range and had a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds, could not convert.
“We didn’t close the game as efficiently as I would have hoped, but save for the last 90 seconds of the half, we played very good basketball,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Tonight our guys’ will was strong and we found a way to win.”
Henderson had 19 points but was just 3 for 12 from the arc. One of those 3-pointers came in the early minutes of of the second half, along with a 17-foot- jumper, as the Rebels quickly erased a 37-27 halftime deficit.
Jarvis Summers had 19 points. He was 9 for 13 from the free throw line but missed twice with 12 seconds left and Ole Miss nursing a 75-71 lead.
Kennedy said his veteran guards put the Rebels in position to win.
“I’ve got a fifth-year senior in Marshall Henderson, and I’ve got a three-year starter in Jarvis Summers who’s logged a lot of minutes, and I thought that poise really helped us get back in the game in the second half.”