In the first half, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy looked on with a frustrated expression as his team struggled offensively, something he has seen them do in their last two contests.
With their NCAA tournament hopes at stake, the Rebels (20-10, 11-6 Southeastern Conference) slipped out of their early funk and shot 61.5 percent (16-for-26) from the field in the second half en route to an 82-74 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide inside Coleman Coliseum on Senior Night.
A team effort by the Rebels
Junior guard Stefan Moody had a team-high 25 points, with 22 of them coming in the second half, on 5-for-11 shooting and went 13-for-14 from the free throw line.
In Ole Miss’ two losses to Georgia and LSU, Moody didn’t have the offensive help he needed, but received tremendous help Tuesday night from LaDarius White, who scored 19 points off the bench, and Aaron Jones who added 10.
Before tip-off, Alabama’s seniors, Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper, received a standing ovation from the home crowd. Randolph had a game-high 32 points on 6-for-10 shooting and was 17-for-17 from the charity stripe, but it wasn’t enough to lead the Crimson Tide to their eighth win in league play. Cooper had 14 points, but shot 3-for-8 from the floor.
For the first time under head coach Anthony Grant, Alabama has suffered defeat on Senior Night (5-1) and for the second-consecutive season, the Crimson Tide (17-13, 7-10) will finish with a losing record in conference play.
Alabama led majority of the way until the Rebels took the lead for good off of a scooping layup from Moody, who had only three points in the first half. From there, Ole Miss went on a 12-2 run to take a 59-48 lead with 6:39 left in the game. With 45 seconds left, Cooper drained a three from the top of the key to cut his team’s deficit to 75-70.
But Moody and Sebastian Saiz, who scored eight points and pulled down three rebounds in 21 minutes, went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe late to ice the win for the Rebels, who accomplished their seventh 20-win season in nine seasons under Kennedy. Kennedy also surpassed Alabama’s Wimp Sanderson for most SEC wins (191) in his first nine seasons with one program.
Coming into the heated rivalry, ESPN’s own Joe Lunardi had Ole Miss in the field of 68 as a No. 9 seed, but it needed a win to prevent from dropping to the first four out.
On Senior Night, Alabama jumped out to an 8-0 lead thanks to its seniors Rodney Cooper and Levi Randolph, who scored all of the Crimson Tide’s first eight points. Ole Miss went almost three minutes without a score until its leading scorer, Stefan Moody, put in his team’s first of three shots from deep through the net.
The Rebels trailed from the opening tip and continued to play from behind for the next 6 ½ minutes until Sebastian Saiz scored back-to-back baskets from the under the rim to tie the game 22-all. Jimmie Taylor, for Alabama, put his team back up with the uncontested layup. Taylor had a solid performance, scoring 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds in 30 minutes.
His 13 rebounds were the most by any player on both teams.
The Crimson Tide’s 3-point shooting (5-for-12) in the first half helped them stay ahead of the reeling Ole Miss team that shot 35 percent (11-for-31) from the field in the first half. Alabama started the game 5-for-10 then went to sleep, going 4-for-10 to end the first 20 minutes.
Despite the Rebels’ rough start, they were able to get back into the game, starting with a short jumper from Aaron Jones to cut the Crimson Tide’s lead to 27-24. Ole Miss milked the clock in the final seconds of the first half with Moody dribbling the basketball up mid-court, only to find LaDarius White open on the left wing for the uncontested three.
Ole Miss was only down 30-27 at halftime thanks to its bench, which scored 17 of the team’s 27 points in the first half. The starting five of Martavious Newby, Jarvis Summers, M.J. Rhett, Moody, and Saiz combined to score 10 points. Summers couldn’t find the shooting touch from the perimeter, finishing with seven points on 1-for-8 shooting to go with his seven assists.
In the end, the Rebels’ bench outscored Alabama’s 36-5 and that was the difference in the game.
Ole Miss closes out the regular season against Vanderbilt Saturday, March 7 at 8:00 pm in the Tad Smith Coliseum. It will be Senior Night for the Rebels.
(Feature image courtesy of Kent Gidley, University of Alabama Athletics.)