VIDEO: Rebels’ Gielo breaks out amid frustrating season

Published 6:15 pm Thursday, February 4, 2016

It’s been a frustrating season for Tomasz Gielo.

But Ole Miss’ senior forward enjoyed what was by far one of his best performances of what will be his only season in a Rebel uniform Wednesday at Missouri, finishing with 16 points in Ole Miss’ 76-73 win.

Gielo finished 6 of 8 from the field and 4 of 6 from 3-point range. They’re the kind of numbers Gielo envisioned himself putting up on a more consistent basis when he transferred from Liberty as a graduate student over the summer instead of spending his final year of college constantly searching for his stroke.

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“Finally, huh?” Gielo said.

The 16 points are the second-highest total for Gielo all season, and his four 3-pointers are the second-most he’s made in a game. A true European big man whose game is played more on the perimeter than near the basket, the 6-foot-9 Poland native entered Wednesday’s game just seven of his last 29 from beyond the arc (24 percent) and is still shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor and 32.6 percent from deep for the season.

“You get to a point where you start questioning yourself,” Gielo said. “You start thinking about every single detail. What am I doing wrong? It even got to a point where one day after a game when I was watching film with one of the assistant coaches, we were looking at if my wrist was going maybe in some other direction than I usually shoot and are my feet set? Every single detail begins to matter.”

Gielo’s final season at Liberty was cut short after seven games because of a non-surgical stress fracture, but he shot 46 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from the 3-point line his junior season in 2013-14 as a regular starter. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy nabbed Gielo on the transfer market with the idea of using his skill set to draw opponents’ big men away from the basket and create more spacing, but the shots haven’t fallen.

More than half of Gielo’s 181 field-goal attempts this season have come from 3-point range, yet he hadn’t knocked down more than two 3s against an SEC opponent before Wednesday. He’s averaging 7.8 points a game in league play.

“I remember sitting in this very seat months ago talking about his ability to stretch the defense,”Kennedy said during a sit-down with media members Thursday. “I thought we had a couple of stretch (forwards). I’m not sure it’s stretched as far as I would’ve hoped to this point.”

Ole Miss (14-8, 4-5 Southeastern Conference) is trying to stay afloat without forward Sebastian Saiz (eye surgery) and a fully healthy Stefan Moody (hamstring), which Kennedy said hasn’t necessarily helped Gielo’s psyche knowing the Rebels need his production to pick up. But Gielo didn’t back away in crunch time Wednesday, stepping into a 3-pointer with less than a minute left that cut into a four-point Missouri lead and sparked a 7-0 run by Ole Miss to end the game.

“My whole life, everybody kept telling me, ‘Hey, you’re a great 3-point shooter. You’ve got to work on that,'” Gielo said. “All I can do is put the extra work in, and when it’s game time, just try to take those shots.”

Ole Miss will return home Saturday to take on Vanderbilt (7 p.m., ESPNU), and Kennedy hopes Wednesday is a performance Gielo can build on in the season’s final month.

“There’s no question in my mind this kid is stressing because he feels like he’s letting down others,” Kennedy said. “He’s a people pleaser, and so I was so proud of him last night. He was the first guy I tried to find off the court after the game because he should now have a collective sigh of relief.”

Watch Gielo talk about his performance Wednesday, his season overall and the test Vanderbilt (12-9, 4-4) will present in the following video.

As for Saiz, Kennedy didn’t rule out the junior forward returning against Vanderbilt but said it’s more likely that he won’t be cleared medically until next week. Saiz, the Rebels’ leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, has missed the last five games after having surgery to repair a partially detached retina.