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Hodge makes last claim for SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors

The graduate guard held Ole Miss’ leading scorer to just 14 points and recorded five steals.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The student section on Saturday featured a plethora of creative and funny signs. One had a much more serious message, simply stating: “D’Moi Hodge for DPOY.”

Hodge may be well-known for his shooting prowess on the court, but he has become the strongest individual defender on this Missouri team since the start of the season. He’s made a late claim to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, recording 32 steals in his past nine games, all while guarding the opposing team’s best player and still producing on the offensive end.

“I said at our press conference early on: for us to be successful, we have to have somebody on the all-defensive team, if not the defensive player of the year,” Gates said.

He averages 2.6 steals per game and also leads the team with 17 blocks on the season at just 6-foot-4.

However, the impact he has on the defensive end goes far beyond the stat sheet. Hodge badgers opposing guards on the perimeter and is constantly focused on getting his hand on the ball in any way he can. That disrupts the normal flow of an opposing team’s offense, and his energy seems to infect the rest of the team.

Ole Miss’ leading scorer coming into this game was guard Matthew Murrell. Averaging 15.0 points per game, Murrell did not play in the first meeting between these two schools due to injury. The impact he could have in the rematch on Saturday was well-documented, but Hodge put those concerns to bed.

He picked Murrell up with a full-court press throughout this game, challenging the Memphis product every time he touched the ball. After he exploded for 26 points against a stingy Texas A&M team on Tuesday, Murrell scored just 14 points on 5-for-16 shooting against Mizzou. While Hodge was not guarding him 100% of the time, he was certainly the primary defender and made life difficult for the 6-foot-4 junior.

His impact in this game was much more than just guarding Murrell. Hodge had a sequence in the second half in which he deflected an inbounds pass, then got a steal and a layup, then forced a jump ball, and then got another steal on consecutive possessions.

That all occurred when the game was tied at 53. Hodge’s individual defensive performance injected some life into Mizzou Arena and sparked the Tigers’ late success. He went on to score the 3-pointer that gave Mizzou the lead for good with 2:28 remaining in the game.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Gates said. “He has some of the quickest hands and he’s one of the best shot-blocking guards I’ve seen.”

Hodge has certainly drawn the attention of NBA Draft scouts with his two-way ability this season. He’s proven that he is much more than just a sharp-shooter, and he could fit a role as a “3-and-D” player that so many NBA teams are after nowadays. If he maintains this level of play in tournament action when more eyes are on him, his name could start to appear on draft boards.

In terms of his potential for earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, Hodge will have to contend with the likes of Tennessee’s Zakai Zeigler, Auburn’s Johni Broome and Vanderbilt’s Liam Robbins, among others. Zeigler is another pesky perimeter defender, averaging 2.0 steals per game, while Robbins and Broome average 3.2 and 2.3 blocks per game respectively.

Regardless of if he takes home the Defensive Player of the Year honor, Hodge figures to be a shoo-in for a spot on the All-SEC Defensive Team.

From the British Virgin Islands, to Cleveland, to Columbia, Hodge has carved his own path with hard work and a commitment to being a threat on both ends of the floor.