Rebels Regain Identity in 72-61 Win Over Auburn
OXFORD, Miss. — After Ole Miss dropped a home game to Wichita State last Saturday, the team was looking at losses in three of its last four games. To make matters worse, the Rebels (5-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) had given up over 80 points in back-to-back contests. Following those losses, head coach Kermit Davis’ message was clear: “We’ve just lost our identity defensively.”
On Wednesday night, the Rebels regained it in a 72-61 win over Auburn (6-4, 0-3 SEC) in The Pavilion.
(Click here for box score.)
That turnaround began, in part, by inserting true freshman Matthew Murrell into the lineup for his first ever start in an Ole Miss uniform. Ole Miss came out firing in the first half, but it wasn’t just the offense that was hitting on all cylinders. The Rebels’ defense was back, as well, as a 15-4 run in the middle of the first gave Kermit’s bunch a double-digit lead.
“At times, it was the best we played all year. We moved the ball in transition…we had a happy locker room, and that’s what we needed before we host South Carolina Saturday.”
Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis
In the first half, from 11:09 to the 4:29 mark, Auburn did not score a field goal. The Tigers made a couple of pairs of free throws; however, the Rebel defense rendered them nonexistent on offense. This would propel Ole Miss to a double-digit lead the men in powder blue would hold on to for the rest of the game.
The Rebels took a 43-29 advantage into halftime, having kept the lead the entire first half, en route to holding the Tigers to 37% from the field and 31% from deep in the opening period.
Second half action
Ole Miss didn’t take long to get started in the second half. After missing their first two, the Rebels made four of their next five to expand their lead. The Tigers would come roaring back with run of their own and eventually cut the lead down to just eight.
Kermit called a textbook timeout at that point, and the Rebels promptly went on a 7-0 run in less than a minute to propel the lead back into double digits.
“I just thought we had to settle in,” Davis said of calling the timeout. “We got loose with the ball and we were going to go back to man-to-man defense. We’d been playing some zone. We got loose in our zone, didn’t rebound out of the zone. Luis made a great play.”
The lead hovered around the ten-point mark all the way to the ending buzzer. The Tigers finished the game shooting 36% from the floor and 33% from three-point range. Jaylin Williams led all players with 24 points.
Ole Miss numbers
The Rebels finished the game shooting 46% from the field (27-59) and 30% from three (7-23). The team was led by Khadim Sy who notched 13 points off the bench, going 5-for-6, including a 3-for-3 from three-point range. He also chipped in two rebounds and one block.
Romello White and Luis Rodriquez added 12 points apiece. Ole Miss finished with a very balanced scoring attack as seven Rebels tallied seven or more points.
Austin Crowley had an outstanding night with eight points (4-6 FGs) and was the team’s top rebounder with 10 boards, surpassing his prior career-best of four. He also notched four steals.
“The biggest thing in practice for these last couple of games was me defending and being more physical rebounding,” Crowley said after the win.
“Coach has stayed on me 24/7 about rebounding and defending, so that was my thought. I didn’t go into the game trying to make shots. I went in trying to affect different parts of the game.“
Sophomore G Austin Crowley
Four Key Observations
1. The Big Men Stretched the Floor
Something we haven’t seen a ton of from the Rebels this year is outside shooting, but they found some touch tonight from a couple of guys you wouldn’t expect to be leading the charge. Khadim Sy looked to be as healthy as he has been all season and really made the Auburn defense pay for not putting a hand up as he went 3-3 from beyond the arc and adding a pop element to a pick and roll with Shuler. Sy has earned praise for his shooting before as Davis said at times in practice he can be the best shooter on the floor.
“He rattled out three injuries back to back to back. Finally he has a little practice, we need him to be big and he is going to play great minutes for us.“
Coach Kermit Davis on Khadim Sy returning from injuries
Additionally, Romello White found a few opportunities for face-up jumpers a step inside the three-point line. The shot can really open a lot of space along the baseline that can allow guys like K.J. Buffen and Luis Rodriquez to either attack or crash in.
2. Devontae Shuler continues to be the leader
Preached it before and preach it again, I shall. This team is different than Ole Miss teams of past. One thing is for certain, and that is the fact that even if Shuler doesn’t score, he is the unquestioned leader of the team.
In the first half, he only notched three points — but he had eight assists (he would finish with 10). Making the right plays at the right times might be his specialty, as he again brought defensive intensity while orchestrating an offense by having over half of the team’s assists.
It is Shuler’s willingness to make the extra pass and not force shots that sets things up and guides the offense, and that made Wednesday’s outing so pleasing to watch.
Shuler -> White for the finish.
Screen assist: Jarkel Joiner (really give him credit too)@TheRebelWalk pic.twitter.com/R94jf5WLTF
— TJ (@TJOxley1) January 7, 2021
3. The 1-3-1 Zone Caused Fits
It’d be nice to call the 1-3-1 an ace-in-the-hole, but after tonight it’s a full-fledged weapon and everyone in the SEC is going to have to spend time preparing for it.
The zone, itself, extends out to half court and diversifies switching into a 2-3 on the wings. The way Kermit breaks it out can cause chaos for opposing teams as they can go into it without missing a beat.
However, that being said, the best part of the 1-3-1 isn’t how it slows the tempo down or how active the hands are of the Rebels swarming around, but it is the offense it can generate. When the Rebels can tip the ball, it generally will result in a steal and gives them an advantage number-wise to push in transition. This has given Kermit’s squad plenty of easy buckets. The zone frustrated the Tigers and gave Ole Miss quick possession changes, allowing the boys in powder blue to do damage in a short amount of time.
Here's 30 seconds of Ole Miss's 1-3-1 wreaking havoc for Auburn. Also a cool KJ Buffen dunk because of it@TheRebelWalk pic.twitter.com/QM6l88yEqJ
— TJ (@TJOxley1) January 7, 2021
4. Austin Crowley’s unique role
Coach Davis has talked all preseason about how excited he Is with the progress of Crowley from his freshman to sophomore season. Due to the influx of players on this roster, it made it tough for some players to establish roles early in the season. Crowley has been finding new ways to contribute to the team, and against Auburn he played a season-high 28 minutes.
He earned his way into the game by snagging defensive rebounds. The Rebels had been efficient at limiting offensive rebounds and while Auburn grabbed 13, Crowley did his best to stop them. In the first half, he notched eight rebounds (seven offensive) and ended up with 10 on the game. In the second half, however, his role adjusted and he connected on three shots early in the second half that halted the Tigers’ runs.
Good fake by Crowley opens up the drive and the pass wasn't perfect but gives Luis an open three to stop the Tiger run pic.twitter.com/QwWjJHHIw3
— TJ (@TJOxley1) January 7, 2021
- Ole Miss has won 13 of the past 17 matchups against Auburn.
- The Rebel bench outscored Auburn’s bench 34-9.
- Devontae Shuler dished out 10 assists, the most by a Rebel since Jarvis Summers had 10 in the NCAA Tournament First Four game versus BYU (March 17, 2015).
- Shuler recorded three steals, giving him 161 for his career and moving him past Gerald Glass (159) into fifth on the program’s all-time steals list.
- Khadim Sy scored a team-high 13 points off the bench; Sy had 13 points total through four games this season.
- Sy went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc for a new career high in threes made.
- Austin Crowley brought down a team-high 10 rebounds off the bench, easily passing his previous career high of four.
- Ole Miss forced 16 Auburn turnovers; the Rebels have forced at least 15 turnovers in all nine games this season.
(Tipins are courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics)
Ole Miss concludes the three-game homestand by welcoming South Carolina to The Pavilion (Jan. 9). Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. CT and will be televised on the SEC Network.