Ole Miss tasted defeat for the first time in nearly two months in its 83-69 home loss to LSU on Tuesday night.
The Tigers’ length and athleticism frustrated Ole Miss for the entirety of the night. The Rebels are now 13-3 (3-1).
Was Tuesday’s loss a sign of coming back down to earth? Probably to some degree, but the Rebels picking off two ranked opponents last week gave the team some wiggle room with regards to remaining on pace to earn an at-large birth in the NCAA Tournament.
Here are some thoughts that came to mind after the loss.
- No Shuler? Big problem.
Kermit Davis acknowledged after the game that sophomore point guard Devontae Shuler has been hobbled by a foot injury for nearly two weeks now. Terence Davis said he believed Shuler is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot. Ole Miss has very little depth as it currently stands and Shuler is the most invaluable piece in this thin rotation. His successful transition to point guard has afforded Breein Tyree the opportunity to play off the ball and the Rebels are a much better team with Tyree on the wing opposite of Terence Davis.
Kermit Davis said they will evaluate Shuler this week and formulate a plan going forward. But if Shuler is forced to miss time, what will the contingency plan be? Tyree is the de facto back up with freshman Franco Miller out for the season with a knee injury. The Rebels aren’t the same team offensively with Tyree playing the point, but that may just be the harsh reality of the situation if Shuler is unable to play.
“Probably D.C. Davis too,” Kermit Davis said. “But Breein is going to have to play there. We need him off the ball more, but he is going to have to play there some.”
Tyree has two years of experience at point guard. He averaged 7.1 points and 1.9 assists per game in 32 games (23 starts ) as a freshman, and 10.8 points per game with 2.8 assists per night as a sophomore in 32 games (23 starts) a season ago. Tyree average 2.2 turnovers per game as a freshman and 1.8 last year.
Not only that, it would seemingly place more of the offensive load on the shoulders of Terence Davis.
“Guys off the bench will have to play well too,” Terence Davis said. “It is next man up. In Kermit’s offense, pretty much anyone can lead us in scoring and help carry the load.”
Kermit Davis acknowledged the team doesn’t have much margin for error when it comes to health and depth in the rotation, making this the most impactful storyline to follow with regards to this team going forward.
2. Rebels’ kryptonite?
Ole Miss ran into a team that was long and athletic in the post and got exposed. Karvell Bigby-Williams’ presence in the paint was felt for the entirety of the nigh. He frustrated Ole Miss’ guards driving to the rim and was a force on the glass.
“We just got intimidated around the rim,” Kermit Davis said.
“He is long,” said Terence Davis. “How many boards did he have? Ten? Four offensive? That is where they won the game. They got extra possessions.”
This was thought to be this team’s achilles heel heading into the season and particularly SEC play when Bruce Stevens and Dominic Olejniczak were tasked with defending physical, yet quicker and more mobile forwards. The Tigers aren’t the only team Ole Miss will face with similarly cut big men. How will they better combat that moving forward?
“We were just a little soft around the rim,” Kermit Davis said. “Dom had seven points and five rebounds, but he just kind of got intimidated. Bruce wasn’t very good around the rim. That is just going to happen. We have to do a better job playing off two feet and trying to get to the line and make free throws.”
Freshmen K.J. Buffen and Blake Hinson aren’t strong enough physically to play in the post for long stretches, though Buffen was pretty good in the loss to LSU with five rebounds. The two will be strong enough to play against physical SEC bigs eventually, but not at this stage in their careers, so Ole Miss will be riding with Olejniczak and Stevens mostly for the rest of the way.
3. How will Ole Miss respond from this?
One loss is a very small dose of adversity, but it was the team’s first loss in nearly eight weeks after reeling off 10 consecutive wins. How will it respond against Arkansas on Saturday? What makes the SEC more brutal this year is the depth of the league more so than the number elite teams. You won’t stumble into a virtual night off against a program in disarray like you might’ve a couple of years ago. Ole Miss is a glowing example of that. It was picked to finish last in the league and beat two top-15 teams on its way to a 3-0 start in league play. South Carolina entered SEC play under .500 and are now 2-0 in the conference with a win over Mississippi State.
How does Ole Miss prevent this from turning into a skid?
“We will respond,” Terence Davis said. “I told the guys after the game that it is still basketball. We just went on 10-game winning streak. That isn’t and easy thing to do. This should make us stronger. We should come together. We have a home game Saturday, that should be perfect for us.”