Kennedy sees Rebels’ true-freshman Tyree emerging as a primary ball handler
OXFORD, Miss. – On Saturday, as he faced the then-No. 5 team in the nation in the Baylor Bears, Ole Miss point guard Breein Tyree played much more like a seasoned veteran than the true freshman he is.
Rebels’ head coach Andy Kennedy has not wanted to place undue pressure on the youngster and, instead, has allowed Tyree to make and grow from freshman-like mistakes.
On Saturday, however, Tyree exhibited both the skills and the leadership of someone far more experienced.
Now that he is physically back to 100 percent, following a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) he suffered before his college career started, the 6-foot-2 Tyree has blossomed into exactly what Kennedy has been looking for at the point guard position: a primary ball handler.
Against Tennessee, Tyree posted career highs of 15 points and six assists in an 80-69 victory over the Vols. Before that, on Nov. 30, he posted 11 points against Middle Tennessee State.
And against No. 5 Baylor on Saturday in front of a packed house of 9,411, Tyree did not disappoint, nor did he play like a freshman.
On offense, Tyree went toe-to-toe with the Bears’ junior transfer from Miami, Manu Lecomte, who, at times, had trouble staying in front of Tyree each time the freshman had the basketball. The Rebels needed Tyree to step up and score once teammates Terence Davis and Sebastian Saiz got into foul trouble late in the second half.
Davis finished with nine points, three rebounds, and two assists, though he fouled out of the game. Saiz recorded his 14th double-double of the season (20 points, 10 rebounds) and finished with four fouls.
Help from the freshman
As usual, Saiz faced the predictable double teams, so Ole Miss (12-9) needed scoring from elsewhere. Tyree came to the rescue down the stretch with much-needed shots. The freshman gave the Rebels the lead twice with four minutes to play in the game.
Tyree’s two foul shots after Ishmail Wainright fouled him made it 69-68, Ole Miss, with 3:51 left. Then a 3 from the right wing lifted Ole Miss to a 72-70 lead with 2:16 to go.
But Baylor (20-1), who this week moved up to No. 2 in the nation, played like one of college basketball’s finest and outscored the Rebels 8-3 in the final minutes to escape Oxford with a win. The Bears now move ahead to their Wednesday showdown with No. 3 Kansas for first place in the Big 12 Conference.
A new career-high
Against Baylor, Tyree eclipsed his previous career-high of 15 with a 20-point performance in 29 minutes of action, and despite the loss, his head coach saw what he needed to see from the Somerset, New Jersey native.
“Breein Tyree has evolved into more of a primary ball handler. I think he solved some of our issues. What a game Breein played against a really good team and a really good player.”
Andy Kennedy on Breein Tyree
Kennedy further praised his young point guard’s performance and effort against Baylor.
“As a coach, you can say that winning one-on-ones is not a lot of basketball terminology but we use it a lot, and you start saying that ‘we really need to win this matchup.’ Well, he’s (Tyree) going against an all-league caliber point guard, an older kid in No. 20 (Lecomte). I thought he did a great job for us keeping us in it.”
How good was Tyree? He simply matched the talented Lecomte shot-for-shot throughout the game. Like Lecomte, Tyree made 6 of 9 shots from the field and added four rebounds. Tyree also recorded two assists, made 2 of 3 shots from beyond the arc, and made all six of his attempts from the free throw line.
“My thoughts going into this game were just to be solid and do everything my team needed me to do tonight. I was being a little more aggressive attacking the rim, and trying to get to the line. And the ball was going in, so good things happened.”
Ole Miss freshman guard, Breein Tyree
Andy Kennedy and his staff didn’t want to rush the talented Tyree into the playing rotation, especially until they were certain the freshman’s surgically repaired knee was totally ready to go. Throughout that time, however, Tyree felt he could play — and he admitted to whining on the bench to the coaches.
But, in the end, good things happen to those who wait.
“They were just saying, ‘Your time is going to come. You’re a freshman. You just came off a knee injury.’ They recruited me here to play the point guard position, but I got injured.”
Breein Tyree on waiting to play
Fortunately for the Rebels, the young freshman looks and feels better than ever.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State (13-7) tip off tonight at 6:00 p.m. (CT) in The Pavilion at Ole Miss. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)