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Bowers, Harris to test Rebels on the interior

There’s never a good time for college basketball teams to be without their leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, but Ole Miss may miss Sebastian Saiz a little more than usual tonight.

Ole Miss’ next chance to stop a losing skid that’s reached four games with a handful of key pieces sidelined with injuries comes against Auburn at the Pavilion at Ole Miss (6 p.m., SEC Network).

Saiz is out all of this week at least as he continues to recover from last week’s surgery to repair a partially torn retina, leaving Marcanvis Hymon, Tomasz Gielo, Anthony Perez and little-used reserve Terry Brutus to deal with two of the Southeastern Conference’s most productive forwards.

Auburn’s Cinmeon Bowers is nearly averaging a double-double at 11.1 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, third-best in the league. Tyler Harris, a graduate transfer from Providence, is posting 15.2 points and 8.1 boards a night.

The 6-foot-10 Harris is taller than the 6-7 Bowers, but Bowers, at 250 pounds, is the true banger inside while Harris has a little more finesse to his game as a stretch forward that can step away and knock down an occasional 3-pointer (38.1 percent from 3).

“Marcanvis Hymon, Tomasz Gielo, Terry Brutus, Anthony Perez, those are the guys that we have on our roster,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We’re going to have to try to put them in a position where they can be successful against two guys in Bowers and Harris that are physically very good players and are having good years.”

The Tigers (9-9, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) will spell Bowers and Harris with 6-9 freshman Horace Spencer, who ranks sixth in the SEC with 1.7 blocks per game. Ole Miss’ sudden lack of girth on the interior — Brutus is the bulkiest inside presence right now at 235 pounds — has resulted in more zone defense from the Rebels (12-7, 2-5) to keep them out of disadvantageous matchups, but that could cause a problem trying to defend Auburn’s perimeter shooting.

Auburn is making more 3-pointers per game (9.6) than any team in the SEC. Point guard Kareem Canty, the Tigers’ leading scorer at 18.9 points per game, leads the league in 3-pointers made a game (3.6) for a team that shoots it a 36.8-percent clip from beyond the arc, the third-best mark in the conference.

Ole Miss’ packed-in defense was exploited the last time out against Mississippi State, which entered Saturday’s game as the second-worst 3-point shooting team in the SEC but made 12 of its 24 3-point attempts. The Rebels will have to choose one or the other tonight.

“Even though we play zone, it’s more than we would be comfortable in playing, but it is what it is,” Kennedy said. “For us, we’ve got to continue to try to get guys to step up, the next-man-up mentality.”

Moody progressing
Whether Ole Miss will have Stefan Moody’s help remains to be seen.

The SEC’s leading scorer watched the Rebels’ game against Mississippi State from the bench in street clothes while nursing his strained hamstring. Kennedy said Moody has made progress in his rehab and has practiced some this week, but his availability will be a game-time decision.

“We’ll make a decision (today) on where he is,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy also said senior guard Martavious Newby is “day to day” with an eye injury that has caused him to miss the last two games.