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TJ’s Takeaways: What We Learned from Ole Miss’ 69-59 Win Over Alabama State

TJ’s Takeaways: What We Learned from Ole Miss’ 69-59 Win Over Alabama State

OXFORD, Miss. — Game number one in the Chris Beard era has officially concluded. The Rebels pulled away in the second half to start off the season with a ten-point win over Alabama State. Ever since March, the hype for Ole Miss basketball has been on a different level, and tonight was the first real experience to see what this Ole Miss team would look like.

This series is here to help us do exactly what the title says and show “what we learned” from this past game. With so many new faces and new expectations for the men’s program, hopefully this article answers some of those pressing questions that people have had. If you’re looking for a recap of the game, we’ve got you covered HERE.

Ole Miss defeated Alabama State, 69-59, after TJ Caldwell led a second-half surge by himself with an 8-0 run that gave Ole Miss a comfortable lead it would hold. Four Rebels ended the contest scoring 15+ points as they accounted for 88.4% of the offense tonight. Matthew Murrell was the leading scorer with 16 points. TJ Caldwell, Allen Flanigan, and Jaylen Murray all finished with 15 apiece.

Here are some takeaways from tonight’s game.

This Defense Is Going to be Special

For nearly the first 10 minutes of this game, the Ole Miss defense held Alabama State to 11 points. They got there after an Amarr Knox three crossed that threshold. Regardless, this defense came out electrifying. It was the first thing written in my game notes, but the group played with big passion on the defensive side of the ball.

Most notably, the defensive switch-ability was on display. Almost everything Ole Miss did was switched. We even saw 7-foot-5 Jamarion Sharp taking switches and even stepping out a bit. The group’s tenacity, paired with athleticism and length, was on full display as they were flying around the court. The group really put in the effort on recoveries and it showed as Alabama State started the game 1-11 from the field. Flanigan really stood out here with three steals on the night.

Focusing in, one thing I want to highlight is that Chris Beard is having his defense 3/4 the post, and they’re active with it too. The emphasis to not let the ball get inside is big and we’ll continue to see how that affects teams going forward. Sharp and Jaemyn Brakefield were actively denying passes and tipping them, knowing that help was there for anything the other way. Ole Miss would hold Alabama State to 10 points in the paint.

Jamarion Sharp Exceeded Expectations

Never would I have thought this, but Sharp finished the game with two points in 21 minutes and still wowed. The overall stat line may not turn any heads. However, Sharp’s work on the defensive end can’t go unnoticed. It was more than the blocked shots — as anyone who knew about him or his game knew that he would block shots. He led the NCAA in blocks per game the last two years.

However, I want to focus on all of it. Sharp moved really well on the court and was asked to do more than just drop coverage and anchor the paint. He played in the system and protected the rim as well. It wasn’t just the four blocks but all the shots he altered. On one play he had to recover to a corner three where he had no business affecting the shot, but his length and how much ground he covered forced a tougher angle. When he’s on the court, it’s going to be a noticeable difference for how teams try to score over him. Sharp also displayed very active hands finishing with two steals.

Allen Flanigan Is Confident…Watch Out

In “The Ole Miss Hoops Handbook” series, I wrote about how Flanigan faced adversity in his college career and how he’s battled back. Today, we saw a new player on the court — one who looked as confident as the sophomore we saw at Auburn a few years ago. Flanigan finished the game with 15 PTS, 12 REB, 3 STL, 1 BLK, and 1 AST.

The moment I saw it all happen was in the first half. Flanigan committed a turnover that led to an easy fast break bucket for Alabama State. Immediately, Flanigan got the ball back and pressed the defense, got them on their heels and finished on the other side in what felt like his own fast break. There was no hesitation, no issue. He made a bad play but turned it around for a confident standout performance for a double-double in his first game at Ole Miss.

Flanigan rode that wave all throughout and had a few impressive stretches, one of which included back-to-back post feeds for easy buckets there. Ole Miss utilized him in the short role to either create or pass off weak side. He also fired two threes without hesitation, making one.

This Team Has Options And That Will Keep Them in Games

Brakefield and Murrell didn’t have their best games tonight. The duo shot 24.1% from the field and 9.1% from three. Despite this,Ole Miss had three other players to fall back on to help carry the load. Murrell still was the leading scorer, however. Flanigan, Caldwell and Murray all showed flashes of creation that showed that even if Ole Miss stars are struggling, the group can be alright. This was a problem for last year’s group that doesn’t necessarily seem to be one as of now.

Flanigan did it on all three levels, mostly operating at getting to the basket. Caldwell showed a next-level shot making ability that he didn’t show much last year. This includes a shifty play in the mid-range for a pull-up and a baseline turnaround that Murrell also utilized. Jaylen Murray shows a ton of confidence to pull the trigger and wasn’t afraid to shoot the ball as he attempted the second-most threes in the game behind Murrell. If those two get hot, it could be trouble for other teams. Murray also used a quick step to attack towards the basket as well.

Chris Beard Coaches Differently

All coaches have different mannerisms on the court. Some are more active, some pace back and fourth, and some sit on a stool for the entirety of the game. Chris Beard was cool. He looked calm, trusting, and relaxed on the sidelines tonight. One of the more interesting moments where he showed his trust was after the first media timeout. You could see Beard leaning in and listening to Matthew Murrell. He wasn’t just listening — he gave off the vibe of ‘hey, tell me what you see and we can work to find a solution.’

We asked Coach Beard after the game about his conversation with Murrell.

Matt and I talked a lot during the game, especially at halftime. I mean, nobody wants to win more than Matt Murrell. No one’s had a better off season in college basketball. His heart’s in the right place. He just wants to be that guy for the team. I thought he was pressing just a little bit early. That’s just not on him. That’s me too. You know, I’m his coach and so I am just trying to get him to relax a little bit. But he was dialed in at halftime. He was positive, he was talking to his teammates. I thought he gave us a poise in the right times. He obviously can play a lot better and he will.

Coach Beard on Matthew Murrell

Again, all coaches have different mannerisms. Some work in different ways. For Ole Miss fans it was an opportunity to see a different style on the sidelines.

Ole Miss Won the First Game of the Year

And that’s all that really matters. If Ole Miss made its free throws Monday night, the Rebels probably could’ve won by 20. A lot of people were probably expecting a major blowout, but the reality is Ole Miss won the game and it’s okay it wasn’t by the big margin you wanted to see.

There’s a couple of things I want to point out here. In game one, you’re never in game shape at this moment despite all the strength and conditioning work that has been done. It takes a little time to get used to the in-season flow. Second, Alabama State went to zone very quickly as Ole Miss got plenty of open looks against them, and most teams don’t plan for zone this early with the limited practice time they have. Third, Ole Miss showed flashes of what could make the Rebels a better-than-advertised team.

It was the first game and Ole Miss showed the following:

  • A defense that had stretches of elite potential with tons of versatility
  • The ability to control the paint and force teams to make tough shots
  • Multiple scoring options on offense
  • A shooting increase in the second half

Coaches always say, they don’t want to see their teams play their best ball in November. This is true here. Would it have been great to see Ole Miss win by 20, 30, 40+? Absolutely. But for now, let’s focus on the continued flashes in the pan and look to see more and more each time out.

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley

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.

About The Author

TJ Oxley

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.

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