OXFORD, Miss. – Sebastian Saiz took off his googles and stood alone at midcourt after Ole Miss (22-14) was eliminated from the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament by Georgia Tech, 74-66, late Tuesday night.
While standing atop the school’s logo, Saiz looked into the stands of the sold out arena before then deciding to take one final lap around The Pavilion to say goodbye to fans and students at Ole Miss. It was the curtain call of one of the nation’s top collegiate basketball players.
His face made it clear he didn’t want the Rebels’ run in the NIT to end. Saiz hoped to end his career in New York City, hoisting the NIT Championship Trophy in Madison Square Garden as a lasting way to commemorate the overall success of the Rebels during his time as a player.
But Saiz’s place in Ole Miss men’s basketball history has already been solidified in the hearts and minds of his coaching staff, teammates, friends, family, and fans who have watched him dominate the college basketball circuit the last two seasons.
Saiz finishes career with 32nd double-double
The Yellow Jackets (20-15) had a difficult time containing the 6-foot-9 Saiz, who was able to knock down hook shots over the taller Ben Lammers, who guarded the Rebels’ forward for most of the game. Saiz finished with 19 points and 15 points, which marked his 23rd double-double of the season and 32nd of his career.
He made 8 of 11 shots from the field, including going 3 of 4 from the free throw line. And even though his stellar performance wasn’t quite enough to get Ole Miss to the NIT Final Four, Saiz received praise from Georgia Tech’s head coach Josh Pastner about what makes him such a difficult matchup for opponents.
“We know he’s really good,” Pastner said about Saiz, who also added two assists, two steals, and one block. “I remember from last year he kick our rear end when I was the coach at Memphis.
“I felt, even from my experience of dealing with him last year, we needed to do a good job of shrinking the floor, keeping it crowded, and making sure he sees bodies. He still played well; I mean he was 8 for 11. We didn’t do that great of a job. He had a double-double.”
Memphis head coach Josh Pastner on Sebastian Saiz
Saiz reaches a mountain of milestones
Saiz’ 23 double-doubles were a single-season school record, but the Madrid, Spain native reached other milestones Tuesday night. He became the seventh player – just the second player in Ole Miss history alongside Murphy Holloway – in Southeastern Conference history to score 1,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds, and block 100 shots, and finishes his Rebel career ranked second in rebounds, fifth in blocked shots, fifth in double-doubles, and 23rd in points scored.
Coach Kennedy will miss the “tremendous kid”
It may be a long time before Andy Kennedy gets to coach another post player like Saiz, who was consistent night-in and night-out for Ole Miss.
It may also be a long time before another post player walks into Oxford and repeats Saiz’s success.
Kennedy was asked after the game about the type of person Saiz is. The Rebels’ 11th-year head coach used just one narrative: tremendous.
“He’s been a tremendous player. Today was his 23rd double-double of the season. That’s pretty amazing to get 23 double-doubles in a power five league.”
Andy Kennedy on Saiz
Kennedy reflected further on what Saiz has meant to Ole Miss and offered effusive praise of his star player.
“He’s a great kid. He has maximized his college experience. He’s really what it’s about. He came over here and he has maximized it. He’s a good kid that’s very active in a lot things other than being a good basketball player. I couldn’t be more pleased. He’s a tremendous kid and his loss will be felt, but I’m proud to see the man he leaves here being.”
Andy Kennedy on Saiz
With talented players like Breein Tyree, Terence Davis, Justas Furmanavicius, Deandre Burnett and Cullen Neal returning, along with some top incoming recruits, the future of Ole Miss men’s basketball is bright. However, it won’t be quite the same without “Sebas,” as Saiz is affectionately known. His presence will be missed.
Ole Miss finished the year with 20 wins for the ninth time in 11 seasons under head coach Andy Kennedy. The Rebels had just seven 20-win seasons in the 96 years prior to Kennedy’s arrival.
(Feature image credit: Mario Parham, The Rebel Walk)