Ole Miss beats Alabama in new arena
OXFORD – Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy had rave reviews for everything associated with the program’s brand new arena – especially the quality of the construction in the home team’s locker room.
The first half didn’t go as planned for the Rebels, so the 10th-year coach said he let loose a little fire and brimstone to get his players fired up.
“The lockers held up,” Kennedy said with a grin. “And the chairs are pretty sturdy.”
Ole Miss responded with a second-half rally to beat Alabama 74-66 in the first game at The Pavilion, the program’s 9,500-seat, $96.5 million facility that replaces the outdated Tad Smith Coliseum.
Sebastian Saiz and Stefan Moody both scored 21 points in front of a sellout crowd. Saiz added 16 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, and shot 8 of 13 from the field.
Kennedy said it was Saiz’s best game in three years with the program.
“Based on the circumstances, the enormity of the moment with this historic night in our program, he really stepped up and made hard plays,” Kennedy said.
It was a surreal night for the Ole Miss basketball program, which for years played in front of a half-full – and sometimes half-interested – home crowd. Now the Rebels are in a modern college arena that was full of passionate Ole Miss fans.
“This was awesome,” Saiz said. “I think we’ve got some of the best fans in the country.”
Alabama (9-4, 0-1) had a 40-32 lead at halftime thanks to a hot shooting touch from 3-point range, but Ole Miss slowly chipped away at the lead and dominated most of the final 10 minutes.
Alabama’s Retin Obasohan led the Crimson Tide with 23 points. Arthur Edwards added 17.
The Rebels jumped out to a 25-15 lead in the first 11 minutes, riding the emotion of playing in front of the energized crowd, which was the largest crowd in school history. But it didn’t last – Alabama responded with a 25-7 run to take a 40-32 halftime lead. The Tide were 7 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half.
“We played a terrific first half – textbook,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said.
Ole Miss slowly rallied in the second half and a Martavious Newby layup put the Rebels ahead 53-52 with about nine minutes remaining. The Rebels slowly pulled away down the stretch, with Saiz grabbing several important rebounds.
“We didn’t rebound,” Johnson said. “Their big guy Saiz did a great job. He was tough on us.”
Moody is the first Ole Miss player to score at least 20 points in nine straight games since 1992. He shot 13 of 16 from the free-throw line. Tomasz Gielo added 12 points for the Rebels.
By David Brandt, AP Sports Writer