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Ole Miss ends regular season with win over South Carolina

Ole Miss saved its best win for last.

Sebastian Saiz had 21 points and 15 rebounds on Senior Night, Breein Tyree scored 19 points, and Ole Miss wrapped up the regular season with a 75-70 win over South Carolina on Saturday at The Pavilion. The Rebels led by as many as 21 in the second half before holding on for just their second top-50 RPI win.

“If we could’ve just made free throws at the end, I think we could’ve gotten away comfortably, but you lead an NCAA Tournament team … it says here we led them for over 34 minutes,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “It was a quality effort by our guys.”

Ole Miss (19-12, 10-8 Southeastern Conference) clinched the No. 6 seed in next week’s SEC Tournament and will face either Auburn or Missouri on Thursday at approximately 8:30 p.m at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The win was the Rebels’ best from an RPI standpoint — South Carolina began the day at No. 29 — but with five top-100 RPI wins and just two of those against the top 50, Ole Miss likely needs to win the tournament to automatically qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

“Our numbers don’t dictate we’re an NCAA Tournament team, but guess what, the numbers aren’t complete,” Kennedy said. “We’ve still got an opportunity to improve upon those, and my hope is that is exactly what we’ll do when we get to Nashville.”

Justas Furmanavicius added 12 points and 10 boards while Cullen Neal chipped in 11 points for the Rebels, who led 53-32 four minutes into the second half. South Carolina (22-9, 12-6) went on a 16-1 run to cut it to 54-48 with 10:48 left and got as close as four twice in the last minute, the final time on Duane Notice’s 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. Ole Miss shot just 62.5 percent (15 of 24) from the free-throw line and missed four of its last six from there, but the Gamecocks missed their last two shots and didn’t get any closer.

Without leading scorer Deandre Burnett, who was held out with a leg injury, Ole Miss shot 46 percent from the floor against a Carolina team that had been allowing opponents to shoot just 39.4 percent, the lowest in the league. Sindarius Thornwell paced South Carolina with a game-high 25 points while P.J. Dozier scored 13, but Ole Miss held the Gamecocks to less than 36 percent from the floor (23 of 64) and 30 percent from the 3-point line (9 of 30).

“We just had no life,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, whose team will be the No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament. “The fundamentals we play through and the disciplines we try to preach on offense or defense, we didn’t execute any of it.”

The Rebels also grabbed 32 defensive rebounds to limit South Carolina’s second chances as part of a plus-6 night on the glass to offset 17 turnovers. In his final regular-season game at home, Saiz got a rare reprieve from extra defensive attention and took advantage to finish 9 of 14 from the field on the way to his 19th double-double of the season and the 28th of his career.

“They didn’t double-team me in the post,” Saiz said. “I was getting the ball and I was feeling comfortable with it. I wasn’t getting two guys or three guys coming at me.

“It was my favorite game at Ole Miss. I ain’t going to lie. It was emotional. … Great way to finish.”

Tyree was responsible for eight turnovers but had 13 of his points in the first half to help the Rebels get off to a faster start in the teams’ second meeting. The Rebels scored 20 points — the same amount it had the entire first half in a 67-56 loss at South Carolina in January — less than 10 minutes in and built their first double-digit advantage with 2:32 left in the first half.

Tyree’s baseline jumper gave the Rebels a 42-31 advantage at the break.

Watch Kennedy and Saiz talk about the win and the upcoming SEC Tournament in the following videos.