Ole Miss secured a huge, quadrant-one road win in its conference opener at Vanderbilt on Saturday night, downing the Commodores, 81-71, behind 31 points from junior guard Breein Tyree.
The win was significant for a number of reasons for Kermit Davis’ team that has been the surprise of the SEC to this point. But above all else, it was important for the confidence of a team that won only one road game a year ago and is currently playing with a lot of belief.
“It’s unbelievable,” Kermit Davis said. “It gets them to buy into the process even more.”
Here are three observations from Ole Miss’ road win on Saturday night.
- Dominik Olejniczak played well enough for Ole Miss to win
This was the pressing question with this team headed into the season and especially into league play, right? Would the Rebels get sufficient-enough post play to give them a chance to win games? Olejniczak was 4-of-6 from the field for eight points, three rebounds and two blocks.
It wasn’t always pretty defensively in the post. Vandy forward Simisola Shittu scored 21 points on 6-of-9 shooting with nine rebounds. Kermit Davis was visibly frustrated at times with the Rebels’ rebounding effort, but Ole Miss can get a performance in the neighborhood of what Olejniczak offered against Vandy on a nightly basis, it will have a chance in most games. He shows flashes of being a good rim protector is usually fairly efficient with the couple of shots he takes each game.
“I thought we settled in better and our zone helped us,” Kermit Davis said. “I thought Dom really made some verticality plays at the end without fouling. He is such a big guy and I thought that was a big part in protecting the rim.”
2. Shuler pieced together, invaluable at the point
Earlier this week, Kermit Davis said that freshman Franco Miller will not play for the Rebels this season after battling a knee injury that had already kept him out for the first seven weeks of the season. With Davis’ preference to play Tyree off the ball, Ole Miss became a bit thinner at point guard by default. Devontae Shuler has played the point the majority of the time this season, and was good for the Rebels down the stretch in the win over the Commodores. Ole Miss ran good half court offense, protected the basketball and sealed a win on a win on the road in the SEC.
“Devontae Shuler may have been the MVP,” Kermit Davis said. “He just battles. Early on, it didn’t go his way. He couldn’t keep Saben Lee in front of him. I took him out, and then he settled in.. I thought he was terrific tonight.”
Shuler was just 2-of-10 from the floor for 11 points, but his ability to play the point and log a lot of minutes helps stabilize an already thin rotation.
3. A moment of maturation for Terence Davis
Maybe the biggest issue Terence Davis has battled in his career at Ole Miss is being able to play without fouling and staying on the floor. Foul trouble has often confined him to the bench during crucial stretches of games. He picked up two quick fouls in the first half in Saturday’s win and his fourth came with just over 15 minutes remaining in the game. He sat for the next seven before Kermit Davis put him back into the game with just over eight minutes to go.
Davis hit a jumper, a three pointer and stole a pass that led to a Shuler layup in a span of four possessions, capping a quick 7-0 spurt that put Ole Miss in front 65-60. The Rebels wouldn’t trail again. Kermit Davis has spoken repeatedly about Terence Davis needing to play through foul trouble for Ole miss to be successufl. Saturday was certainly something Davis can build off of going forward.
“I was definitely conscious of it,” Terence Davis said. “I just wanted to do something to get my team going.”
This team lacks depth and needs its trio of veteran guards to eat a lot of minutes. Terence Davis’ ability to remain on the floor through foul trouble will prove to be critically impactful in games going forward for Ole Miss.
“I was so proud of Terence Davis,” Kermit Davis said. “It didn’t go right for him for about 32 minutes. He had eleven late and made big plays.”
The Rebels have an arduous week ahead of them. They welcome 12th-ranked Auburn to The Pavilion on Wednesday night before traveling to Starkville to take on a ranked Mississippi State team. Perhaps more than any week to this point, the coming one will reveal how much this team has improved and where it fits into the landscape of the SEC.
Tipoff on Wednesday is set for 7:30 P.M.