Photo credit: Ole Miss Athletics
It was Kamar Baldwin’s world and Ole Miss was simply living in it.
The senior dropped 31 points on 11-16 shooting in a 67-58 victory over Ole Miss. The Rebels had no answer for the ambidextrous guard that may be the most underrated player in a Big East Conference the ranked Bulldogs look prime to contend in.
“The best player just took over the game,” Kermit Davis said. “He made some really tough shots. We gave him some good ones, but we made him work for a lot of his baskets. Give credit to him.”
Baldwin poured in 18 in the second half alone, had nearly half of the team’s field goals, grabbed dix rebounds with three assists and no turnovers. He did it in a variety of different ways. He sliced up the interior of Ole Miss’ zone, straight-line drove past defenders when the Rebels showed man defense and made 4-of-5 three-point shots.
“He’s got the best right hand at six-to-eight feet that I have ever played against in 38 years for a left-hander,” Davis said. “I am not talking about at the rim. You see it all the time. He makes eight and nine footers like that with his right hand. It is unbelievable. It is a great weapon. He is terrific.”
Davis seemed more in awe of Baldwin than frustrated at the fact he dropped 31 points in his team’s third loss in four games. Davis thought they defended him well and made him earn it.
Aside from Baldwin, this contest brought forth familiar issues for an Ole Miss team that has stumbled through its last four games. The Rebels have struggled to score the basketball. It has led to slow starts and large deficits. The blame can’t entirely be placed on the guards, but the up-and-down offensive performance of Breein Tyree and the early season struggles from Devontae Shuler have hindered this team greatly.
“We have to start making shots,” Davis said. “We have two guards that are preseason All-SEC that are struggling. We are trying but the way our team is built, those guys have to score for us.”
Shuler has scored just 25 points combined in his last five games after going for double digits in his the first three. He scored seven points on 2-of-10 shooting with six assists in this game.
“He’s a junior and you have to encourage him to take good shots,” Davis said. “You can’t break out of a slump taking tough shots. I thought tonight, for the most part, he took good shots. He really did.. We just have to keep working and building confidence. If he was taking a bunch of bad shots, I would be more worried. He will bounce back.”
Tyree is just 12-of-43 from three-point range this season. His shot selection has not always been optimal through eight games and when jump shots aren’t falling, he has a tendency to let it affect other areas of his game. He was fine in this one, scoring 22 on 8-of-16 shooting with two turnovers and an assist.
Foul trouble reared its head again with K.J. Buffen, who sat a good portion of the first half after picking up two fouls in 12 minutes. He played 24 in total and scored just four points. Buffen has been good when he’s been on the floor for the Rebels this year and can affect a game in more ways than anyone on the roster. But again, he has been entangled in foul trouble far too often. Davis thought he played immaturely. Buffen turned it over four times with an assist and four rebounds.
“That really hurts our team when he’s not in there,” Davis said.
The offensive dysfunction is layered. The Rebels struggle to move the basketball, are soft at the rim at times and have shot it particularly poorly in this four-game stretch. But the primary source of it are the struggles of Tyree and Shuler. Like Davis said, this team is built to have its backcourt carry it on the offensive end, with the help of improved sophomores Buffen and Blake Hinson of course. But without production from Shuler and Tyree, the Rebels are hamstrung. And while they are good defensively at times, they don’t defend well enough to overcome the offensive shortcomings.
This game marked the end of a tough four-game stretch that included the likes of ranked foes Butler and Memphis, with two games against (likely) soon-to-be ranked Oklahoma State and Penn State. The Rebels were fortunate to come out of it 1-3. A lot was learned about this team in this four-game stretch in which the competition steepened, but it is still early and there are a lot of new pieces on this team. They’ll benefit greatly from the upcoming Christmas break where basketball is their lone focus. But there are real issues with this group as it wades into the back end of its non-conference slate.
“We are always searching to for guys to get good looks,” Davis said. “We will bounce back.”
— Davis shook up the starting five with the insertion of Bryce Williams and Sammy Hunter over Tyree and Khadim Sy. Tyree was late for a meeting and Sy practiced poorly. Davis did not seem overly concerned with Tyree’s absence, citing that he is normally the first one in the gym. He thought both responded well to the discipline.