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Ole Miss Swarms Jackson State in 80-45 Win, sets sights on Saturday game vs. UNCW

Ole Miss Swarms Jackson State in 80-45 Win, sets sights on Saturday game vs. UNCW

OXFORD, Miss. — The time for college hoops in the Pavilion is finally underway as Ole Miss ushered in a new season Thursday night with an 80-45 season-opening win over Jackson State.

In 2020, Kermit Davis looked to change things as the world itself was changing. He saw an opportunity to go out and improve the Ole Miss basketball roster, and on Thursday night we finally got to see the fruition of it all in the long-awaited season debut against the Tigers.

After having faced much adversity already, including the cancellation of the Justin Reed Classic due to COVID-19, Coach Davis, himself, had to be isolated after testing positive for the virus.

Game Recap

That adversity ultimately showed for the first three-and-a-half minutes of the contest where the starting lineup looked a tad sluggish. Coach Davis’ starters were: Devontae Shuler, Jarkel Joiner, Luis Rodriquez, K.J. Buffen, and Khadim Sy, players who have all been around the program for at least a year.  The slow start led to a Kermit Davis timeout where he told his players “the better team is on the other side of the court,” referring to Jackson State.

These words and a couple of substitutions jolted the Rebels into action and sparked them to a 23-4 run that swung the game directly into Ole Miss’ favor — where it would stay for the rest of the game.

The Rebels used their depth to their advantage, as by halftime Ole Miss led the Tigers in bench scoring by 20. In fact, the Tigers didn’t even have someone on the bench score at all in the first half.  Conversely, Davis wasn’t afraid to go to his bench early as he played 10 guys in the first half.

“I think our depth took its toll a little bit,” Coach Davis said after the game. “I thought Jackson State really came out and played hard. They got us out on the wings and took us out of a few things with their pressure. I don’t know why it surprised us; we do it to ourselves. But I give Jackson State credit the way they started the game. They did the same thing on Mississippi State.

I just thought during a time when we weren’t great offensively, we kept getting stop after stop after stop. And then I thought, finally, our depth, we started subbing guys in, guys coming in playing and fresh, hopefully that’s what we can do to teams throughout the year.

Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis

In the second half, Ole Miss blew things wide open and ended the game with the 80-45 victory. Devontae Shuler led the way with 23 points on an efficient 9-10 shooting, including a perfect 5-5 from outside. The only other Rebel to reach double figures was Khadim Sy who had 11 points on 5-6 shooting from the field. Davis didn’t play anyone over 23 minutes in the game and saw 14 players take the field.

Three Talking Points

1. The Little Things

You don’t allow 12 points at half without forcing the opposing team into really bad shots and playing out of control. The Rebels did just that on Thursday as the performance netted them Top-3 Honors in the following categories: Scoring Defense (#1), FG% Defense (#2), Turnover Margin (#2), and Turnovers Forced (#2).

Defense stems a lot from effort and discipline and for a team who was playing through some rust and had a coach who missed practice, the Rebels seemed to handle the small things quite well.

Take a look at the play above and notice all the “little things” that happen. It starts with Sammy Hunter communicating with Shuler that the screen is coming, allowing him to begin to “ice” the screen.  This forces Jonas James to go towards Sammy Hunter and hit the pop man out of it.

Next keep an eye on Dimencio Vaughn and Khadim Sy. In the paint, Sy is talking to Vaughn about where his assignment is and you can even see a point of the arm, too. Vaughn goes to recover, but notices the attacking JSU forward. Vaughn does a nice job to stunt the defender and force him to pull up instead of continuing his drive, and that allows for Hunter — who is already hustling back — to make the full recovery, which led to the and-one slam on the other end.

From my observation, the Rebels really protected the paint well and collapsed when the Tigers tried to go inside. Romello White surprised me with his rim protection (more on him later), and I was impressed at how effective the team was at applying pressure on post feeds when the Rebels would often look to double.

On the outside, I liked how the team rotated defensively and Coach Davis praised his team for their communication. “I thought our effort was good,” Davis said. “We’re doing some things different schematically than we have in the last few years. I thought the way we were guarding the post, the way we were guarding some ball screens on the side, I thought our team was connected. Robert Allen drew two great charges. I thought we had great communication when our team was playing well on that end.”

2.  Romello White is For Real

This isn’t a knock on any other forward on this roster, but Romello White deserves to be playing 25+ minutes nightly.  His presence down low comes on both sides as he does a lot of things that can help make a team better. Starting on offense, he is an excellent screener with his 235-lb frame and has the quick athleticism to dive to the hoop. White came in and immediately added a spark to the Rebels, notching five points and three rebounds in under four minutes of play.

The more impressive part of his game may have come on the defensive end. White blocked a few shots and altered many more by protecting the paint and rotating over to help inside. His motor, though, is what really made me excited throughout the game.

Again, looking at the above play we see just how hard this man works on a possession for his team. He sets a tough screen to get around, the crash, the dive to the floor all for one rebound in the stat column. He may be a double-double guy, but his experience and drive to do the little things will be what pushes this team forward into winning close games. Through one game you can tell he will be an important piece for the Rebels this season.

3. Crowley Might be the Most Improved 

Last season Crowley looked like a 3&D type role who could be versatile on the defensive end. As the year went on, he used that athleticism and length to cut and finish at the rim, but now he is looking to have the ball in his hands and to create for others.

Crowley has looked to improve his frame as well to help with the collegiate competition. It may not show up in the four points he logged in the box score from Thursday night, but his impact was definitely there. Looking at the clips below, you’ll see where he excelled at the “little things.”

On this play, look how Crowley’s handle has improved and watch as he creates separation with the between-the-leg dribble. The footwork on the spin is impressive, but the attacking mentality is something that is completely new to see. They also used him as a handler in a pick-n-pop situation, which is another great sign.

Here, again, we see Crowley up top with the ball in his hands, but we also see the awareness to see the off-ball help, watching the roll-man as he fires a pass down low to Hunter off the block.

Looking Ahead

On Saturday the Rebels take on UNCW. The Seahawks have four guards who have averaged in double figures through the team’s five  games this season. They bring back most of their production from last season and have new coach Takayo Siddle leading the charge.

So far this season, UNCW has been without its two leading scorers in one contest, so don’t let the 3-2 record fool you; they can put up points. The wing defense is going to be the matchup to watch as the Rebels will need to slow down Jaylen Sims who is on a hot streak to start the season. He is averaging 27 PPG on the year while shooting 54% from the field and 55% from three. These are volume threes, too, as he is averaging six attempts per game. Slowing him down will be a must if Ole Miss wants to keep the Seahawks from running up the score.

On the offensive end, the Rebels will need to take advantage of the heavy guard lineup and should look to work inside out with White, Sy, and Hunter. The Seahawks have one player at 6’9″ and the length advantage could be huge, but taking out one of UNCW’s 250+ lb forwards could go a long way to getting things into a groove.

Tipoff is set for 4:00 p.m. in The Pavilion. 

About The Author

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.

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