By Parrish Alford
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sebastian Saiz pushed the fear factor aside just in time for Ole Miss.
The freshman from Madrid gave the Rebels the post presence they’ve lacked most of this season when they knocked off LSU 88-74 in overtime Wednesday night.
The challenge now is to repeat that performance or get close to it.
Ole Miss (11-5, 2-1 SEC) will look for consistency from Saiz and its other post players on the road today in a 3:30 p.m. tip at South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks are just 5-3 at home this season, 7-9 overall and 0-3 in SEC play.
Their resume was not much more impressive when they dealt a setback to the Rebels’ NCAA tourney hopes with a 63-62 win here on Feb. 20 last year.
Saiz was averaging just 4.4 points when he had 20 points and nine rebounds against LSU.
“I was thinking before the game that I didn’t show up in the whole year yet. I was thinking, ‘When am I going to do it?’ It’s time. SEC’s here, so it’s time,” he said. “I stopped thinking about being scared and other stuff and tried to be me.”
“Sebas was the guy who finished plays, and that was something we’d been missing,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said.
The Rebels’ next three games – at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt and at home against Mississippi State – are against teams with a combined SEC mark of 2-7 and come at a time that Marshall Henderson rejoins the team.
Ole Miss lost 76-72 at MSU without Henderson, and players are hopeful that his return, possible frontcourt improvement and a big win against LSU could all combine to help the Rebels get on a roll.
Henderson was 6-for-12 from the arc and scored 25 points against the Tigers.
He also contributed with a big defensive possession on LSU’s last shot in regulation, something he was not able to deliver in Columbia last year. Henderson was held to 11 points on 4-for-17 shooting – 3-for-11 from the arc – in the game.
“We know we’re right there, and anything can still happen with 15 SEC games left,” Henderson said. “We’re hoping this is the one that helps us string some together. The way the schedule works, we need to take advantage at the beginning of conference play. We hit a nice little streak in the middle.”