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A day after: Three thoughts from Ole Miss’ win over Arkansas

Kermit Davis called Ole Miss’ 84-67 win over Arkansas its best win of the season. The sentiment was largely shaped around the fact the Rebels rebounded from their first loss in nearly two months and their first defeat in SEC play. 

The team survived with a hobbled Devontae Shuler and led wire-to-wire in a game that never felt in any imminent danger even with the Razorbacks shaving the margin to six points early in the second half. Ole Miss goes on the road on Tuesday night to face an Alabama team that took Tennessee — a likely national title contender — down to the final possession in Knoxville.

Here are some thoughts from an important win for the Rebels as it heads into a week that begins in Tuscaloosa and ends with Iowa State in Oxford on Saturday as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

  1. Dominik Olejniczak matched his season high in points in the first half. 

The seven-foot center scored 13 points — all in the first half — on 5-of-7 shooting in the win. He matched his season high in points and Ole Miss made it a point to get him the basketball on the low block early in the game. Arkansas power forward Daniel Gafford is a projected lottery pick in the 2019 NBA draft and stands at a towering 6-foot-10, 230 pounds. Given Ole Miss’ inconsistent play in the front court at times this year, going directly to Olejniczak early in the game, on the surface, would seem like an arduous task.

But with as dynamic as the Rebels’ guards can be at times, it forces defenses to guard ball screens in a manner that ensures the guard doesn’t get space. Gafford would either switch the screen, giving Ole Miss and advantage with a Razorback guard on Olejniczak, or Gafford would hedge the screen, leaving the extended roll open off the screen. The Rebels hurt Arkansas with this often.

“We were trying to get it to him,” Kermit Davis said. “Terence Davis had a great floor game today. He stuck with the long roll when they were trying to hedge. Dom did a really good job. I thought Dom and Bruce (Stevens) together, that is the best they have played.”

Stevens scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Gafford scored just nine points on 2-of-6 shooting, which may be the most important stat line of the game given how Ole Miss has fared defensively in the post at times this season. Will the team get that kind of performance out of its two bigs on a nightly basis going forward? Probably not. But if Olejniczak and Stevens can muster a collective outing in the neighborhood of the one the two pieced together on Saturday,  Ole Miss will be a tougher team to beat.

2. D.C. Davis starts in place of Devontae Shuler

Kermit Davis noted earlier this week that Devontae Shuler has been hobbled with a stress fracture in his foot, an ailment that surfaced roughly two weeks ago and one that came about through gradual wear-and-tear as opposed to one single play. Davis said on Thursday he expected Shuler to play in some capacity, but did not know how much. He elected to start senior and former walk-on D.C. Davis in place of Shuler. D.C. Davis acquitted himself well with seven points and four assists. He posted a +20 plus-minus ratio in 27 minutes, the best on the team. 

“What a great story,” Kermit Davis said. “A walk-on, Mississippi kid and a kid that is very athletic. He is really athletic at the rim. He and Breein (Tyree) may be our two best in traffic. He guarded well. He stayed within himself and took good shots.”

Ole Miss put D.C. Davis on scholarship this summer on a conditional basis as the staff wanted to evaluate him throughout the summer both on and off the court. Davis has done all the right things and made the staff’s decision to keep him on scholarship an easy one. It is a cool story for D.C. Davis, who stands at just 5-foot-11. He’s worked hard to carve out an meaningful role off the bench and played well when the team needed him to.

“He brings energy to the floor and confidence to the team,” Tyree said. “It is really cool. I have so much love for D.C. and am really happy for him. He puts in so much work and got a great opportunity to show it tonight.”

Kermit Davis said the decision to go with D.C. Davis was more of a gut feeling than anything else. Shuler still played 25 minutes and made a sizable impact on the game, particularly defensively. The staff is going to use every opportunity it can to to rest Shuler over the next couple weeks with the hopes he can get fully healthy as the stress fracture heals. Kermit Davis said it is still possible Shuler starts at Alabama and this whole things sounds like it will be a feeling out process on a daily basis based on how Shuler’s foot is feeling. 

3. Breein Tyree rebounded from a tough outing against LSU

Tyree scored 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting with four assists and two rebounds. Tyree floated from the wing to the point throughout the game with Shuler being limited. Tyree’s got two years of experience at point guard, but it has been well documented how much better Ole Miss is offensively with him on the wing. Tyree will still have to play point some and possibly more frequently in the immediate future, but he doesn’t seem to mind either way.

“I have had experience playing point guard in the past and whatever Coach needs me to do, I am going to do it,” Tyree said. “Concerning Devontae, he is a tough kid and he helped us out a lot tonight, maybe not so much making shots but defensively and making good passes.”

Ole Miss and Alabama tipoff at 8 P.M. Tuesday evening. A win would get the Rebels to 5-1 in league play and 15-3 on the year.

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