OXFORD, Miss. — Last season in year one under head coach Kermit Davis, the Ole Miss men’s basketball team exceeded expectations and earned a berth into the NCAA tournament. This year, despite the graduation of current Toronto Raptors breakout rookie Terence Davis and Bruce Stevens, along with the transfer of Dominik Olejniczak, the Rebels looked to continue their success. While things didn’t initially go as expected this year, Ole Miss may be getting hot as we move toward the end of the season.
Three of the last four
The Rebs have now won three of their last four, with the loss coming after an incredibly hard fought match-up with Kentucky at Rupp Arena, in a game where Ole Miss seemed to be in control for a majority of the contest. It is worth mentioning Kentucky is currently undefeated at home during conference play and 14-1 on the season; the Wildcats’ lone home loss came as a result of a major upset from Evansville at the beginning of the year.
The Rebels’ most recent three wins — South Carolina, Florida and Mississippi State — came against teams all currently in the top six of the conference standings, two of which (Florida and South Carolina) are currently predicted by ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi to make the NCAA tournament. The best part of the above could be that the average margin of victory for Ole Miss was 18 points.
During this recent stretch, there have been plenty of encouraging signs. The first is the emergence of freshman forward Antavion Collum.
In the past four games, Collum has played his most minutes of any stretch this season and has given his team solid energy off the bench. Against Kentucky, he grabbed a season-high seven rebounds and notched four points in 22 minutes.
It’s also a good sign for Kermit Davis’ bunch that the defense is turning it up a notch.
During this recent run, only once have opposing teams shot greater than 40%. South Carolina managed to escape with 41% shooting while the rest were firmly in the 30s.
Ole Miss’ rejuvenated defense has also forced opponents to struggle from long range. The Rebels rank eighth nationally in defending the three-point line; opponents are shooting 28.2 percent with Ole Miss limiting the opposition to 18.5 percent (15 of 81) from beyond the arc over the past four games.
Kentucky went 2-22 (9.1%) from deep — the Rebels’ best three-point defense since holding Southern to 1 of 11 (9.1 percent) five seasons ago (Nov. 20, 2014).
Mississippi State shot 2-16 (12.5%) from beyond the three point line. This, in part, can be attributed to Coach Kermit Davis’ “13” defense that initially is set up as a 1-3-1 but quickly switches to a 2-3 defense depending where the ball is in the half court.
Sunday Stat: Ole Miss ranks 8th in the country in defending the 3-ball. Opponents shoot just 28.2% from long distance. pic.twitter.com/TumUbuAIuV
— Ole Miss Men’s Basketball (@OleMissMBB) February 17, 2020
Tyree has been on an absolute tear, racking up multiple 25+ point games and playing his way into a potential SEC Player of the Year candidate. But another sign the Rebels could see momentum swinging their way comes in the form of the balanced scoring attack Ole Miss showed in the Kentucky game.
Four of the Rebs’ starters logged double digits as Tyree led the way with 19, while both Blake Hinson and KJ Buffen added 13 and Devontae Shuler rounded out the group by adding 11 points.
What does this all mean for Ole Miss going forward?
The Rebels’ current record sits at 13-12, 4-8 in SEC play. If Ole Miss can continue the momentum from the last few games and win five of its last six, the Rebels would find themselves at 18-13 and 9-9 in conference at season’s end. This would surely move Coach Davis’ squad into the Top 10 of the league, leading to a big first-round bye in the SEC tournament — a tournament where almost anything can happen, especially with the way this college basketball season has gone.
Hitting the road
The biggest challenge for Ole Miss has been the team’s struggle on the road. The Rebels are 1-7 as the visitors, with the lone road win coming in the form of a 70-60 victory over Georgia on January 25 in Athens.
Ole Miss has six games remaining before the SEC tournament, three at home and three on the road. First up, the Red and Blue travel to Columbia today to take on Dru Smith and Missouri (12-13, 4-8 SEC). Click here for Game Notes for tonight’s contest against the Tigers.
Ole Miss will then head home to Oxford for a Saturday match-up with Alabama (14-11, 6-6). The Crimson Tide, led by guards Kira Lewis, Jr. and John Petty, Jr., play at one of the fastest paces in all of college basketball.
After this encounter, the Rebs get back on the road for a tough game February 25 against Isaac Okoro and the Auburn Tigers (22-3, 14-0), where Ole Miss will certainly be looking to get one back after the heartbreaking, 83-82 double-overtime loss to the Tigers earlier in the season. Although it will be tough, as Auburn is 14-0 at home this season, Ole Miss has won 5 of its last six at Auburn Arena.
After the Auburn contest, the Rebs get a two-game home stand against a struggling Vanderbilt (9-16, 1-11) team, followed by the second match-up against Missouri. They’ll then end the year with what should be an entertaining rivalry game against State (16-9, 7-5) on March 7 in Starkville. After losing to the Rebels by 25 points last week, one might think the Bulldogs would be looking to redeem themselves from an embarrassingly poor showing in Oxford.
Ole Miss appears to have turned a corner this season and although the Rebels’ overall record may not reflect it, the team isn’t letting that bother them. They’re continuing their mission to “Win February.” Tune into SEC Network to watch the Rebs take on Missouri at 7:30 p.m. (CT) tonight and be sure to pack The Pavilion Saturday for the Alabama game!