Ole Miss men’s basketball shows new identity in 73-58 win over Alcorn State
OXFORD, Miss. — It was the final minute of Ole Miss regular season opener against Alcorn State.
Amaree Abram sits with the ball in his hands in the backcourt with TJ Caldwell nearby. The two freshmen had given an admirable performance all evening against Alcorn State in their first Division I game. Then, as the shot clock winds down, Abram works to his spot just inside the three point line and rises up for a jumper off the dribble and it goes in.
It wasn’t the most memorable shot in the game, but it quietly showed the potential of this duo.
Caldwell and Abram combined for 17 points while largely splitting the point guard duty as Daeshun Ruffin recovers from injury.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Ole Miss; however, just like the young duo, Ole Miss began to show its identity and how this team is designed to play.
“To be 1-0 is a great start,” said Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis.
“(Alcorn) is an in-state team that won their championship, they’re extremely well-coached and a hard-playing team. I know there are some other really good teams in the SWAC, but (Alcorn) will be a hard out and could be an NCAA Tournament team.“
Kermit Davis on Alcorn State
Alcorn State came into the game firing on all cylinders, going on a little 5-0 run to start. Early on, the Braves found success in the paint and Ole Miss looked a little rattled. The pace was frenetic and Ole Miss experienced some offensive woes to start.
A Team Built to Dominate on Defense and the Glass Delivered
The Ole Miss offense was missing a key piece in Daeshun Ruffin in its opener. The sophomore has a bone bruise and is day to day. As one could imagine, the Rebels’ offense needed to make-up for Ruffin’s absence. The Rebs found open shots, but they just weren’t falling.
During that time, however, Ole Miss found the identity it was designed to have.
Starting at the 13:34 mark in the first half, the Ole Miss defense clicked. The red jerseys of the home team began to swarm with pressure defense while also upping the level of physicality. The Rebels shut out the Braves for just over eight minutes while also forcing multiple turnovers in the process.
Ole Miss expanded its lead a bit, but the offensive woes limited the team from extending the lead to a more comfortable spot.
As a team that was designed for defense, this was a rather encouraging sign. This Alcorn State team is fresh off of one of the better years in program history after going 14-1 in the SWAC and making the NIT last year. Early on, the Braves tried to establish the paint and had some success.
Then Ole Miss began to rebound and protect the paint.
Ole Miss assembled many players from the portal to help with rebounding and to create that tenacity on the glass. This spread to the entire team as the Rebels grabbed 10 offensive boards in the first half, leading to 15 second-chance points. Creating more opportunities is one of the areas in which Kermit Davis was trying to improve from last year.
This emphasis on the glass was noticeable throughout.
“(Alcorn) was physical, their pressure up the floor was good,” Davis said. “But we kept offensively rebounding the ball, and it gave us some opportunity.”
Oftentimes, you could see multiple Rebels rushing to the ball, and if not grabbing the rebound, itself, they tipped it around for someone else. Seeing all the red jerseys rush to the ball limited the second chances for Alcorn State and gave Ole Miss some real opportunities to push the ball quickly in transition.
Veterans Set the Tone in the Second Half
Ole Miss was led by Matthew Murrell who finished the game with 20 points. The junior guard expected to take another step forward this season and with Ruffin’s injury, he needed to be a large scoring threat.
After a quiet start, Murrell heated up, along with the rest of the offense in the second half as he put in fourteen points on 50% shooting in the half. His footwork on his jumpers improved and he began getting aligned and set, making three triples in the second half.
The other veteran to help propel Ole Miss forward was Robert Allen, returning to the court to play for the first time since suffering an ACL tear last season.
Serving as the heart and soul of this unit, Allen’s emotional play by fighting for loose rebounds and scoring and diving all over the court was noticeable. His 22 minutes played were the most since playing 26 against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 26 last season, just two games before his season-ending knee injury against No. 18 Memphis.
Against Alcorn, the forward finished with 15 points — a career high — and 6 rebounds. Allen also led the way going 7-7 from the free throw line.
“I’m proud of myself. A lot of the times I don’t take the moment to say that to myself, so saying that in front of you guys just means even more. Just going through the things more mentally than physically, going through something like this has been just very big for me. I’m just thankful to God I got a second chance to play basketball again.“
Robert Allen on returning from injury
Backed by Allen and Murrell, Ole Miss rallied to shoot 43% in the second half as the Rebels erupted for 45 points.
“You can just see how much he means to the culture of this program,” Davis said of Allen.
Wearing Down the Opponent
The depth of this Ole Miss team is impressive. Kermit Davis played 12 in the first half. In the second, that consistent physical play, pressure defense, and attacking style started to pay dividends.
Ole Miss found itself in the bonus with over just over 12 minutes left in the contest. Four Braves ended the game with four fouls, and Alcorn State ended the game with 16 fouls in the second half.
Speaking of those fouls, Ole Miss made it to the line aplenty. In the first half, the Rebels seemed to have the same issues as last year, going 6-10 from the line. In the second half, though, Ole Miss settled down and went 14-18, shooting 78%.
The offense will improve even more as some of these fresh faces learn to gel with one another. Overall, Ole Miss shot 37% from the field (22-59) and 36% from deep (9-25). The Rebels won the rebounding battle, 45-33, while getting the edge with 21 total offensive rebounds. Those resulted in 31 second chance points.
The game also came with its struggles as Ole Miss had a few scoring droughts that it will look to minimalize in the future. The Rebels also committed 16 total turnovers.
The next opportunity for Coach Davis’ team to build on this performance comes on Friday. Florida Atlantic heads to Oxford for Military Appreciation Night. Tip-off is set for 6 PM.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.