Published on January 8th, 2016 | by Alex Thiel0
Kennedy’s Rebels Ring In Pavilion Era with an SEC Win and a few Celebrities
Story by Alex Thiel – Photographs by Newt Rayburn
University, Miss (TLV) – The Pavilion at Ole Miss looked like a million bucks on its opening night – $96.5 million, rather – as a sellout crowd of 9,500 witnessed the Rebels defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide by a score of 74-66 in the venue’s debut.
Ole Miss celebrities such as Marshall Henderson and Shepard Smith were on hand – along with a program-record crowd of 9,500 – to witness a second-half comeback by the Rebs, led by a monster game from junior big man Sebastian Saiz (21 points, 16 rebounds in 38 minutes).
The Crimson Tide looked to play spoiler on the road in its SEC debut, but it was not to be.
Coached by ex-Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, the Tide led for much of the first half. However, when their shooting went cold late, the home crowd took over and ensured that The Pavilion’s first night would be a happy one.
Ole Miss built a 25-15 lead early, but Johnson’s club got it together late in the first half and went on a 25-7 run of their own. Stefan Moody was a paltry 25% from the floor in the first half, tallying 7 points. However, junior big man Sebastian Saiz contributed 9 points and 8 rebounds, while Tomasz Gielo paced all Rebels with 10 points in the first half.
As has been the case with Ole Miss basketball for the past few years, however, the team finally put it all together in the second half.
Head coach Andy Kennedy was highly complimentary of the energy from the fans in the new arena.
“I honestly felt more pressure tonight than I did during the SEC championship,” he noted. “This has never happened at Ole Miss… [I] actually saw students running to the game, instead of away from the game!”
The player of the game was undoubtedly Sebastian Saiz, who took advantage of Alabama’s commitment to guarding Moody down the stretch. Moody driving the lane, drawing the defense and dishing to Sebas was a familiar sight in the second half, and it worked far more effectively than it has at times in the past.
“I thought it was his best game as a Rebel,” said Andy Kennedy. “Tonight, based on the circumstances… [h]e really stepped up and made hard plays.”
At the end of the night, before heading into the locker room, Andy Kennedy grabbed a microphone and addressed the fans from the floor, thanking them for their part in making it a “historic night” for the program. He asked that fans continue to “bring the energy,” promising that his team would do the same.
“See you Saturday,” he finished.