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Five observations from Ole Miss’ road loss at Wichita State

Photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics

Ole Miss was run off the floor by  24th-ranked Wichita State team on Saturday to the tune of a 74-54 defeat to end its non-conference slate. The Rebels were abysmal offensively, fell into an early hole and couldn’t string together stops early in the second half to crawl back into the game. Here are five observations from the loss as the Rebels shift their focus to SEC play.

  1. The overarching reason Ole Miss fell into an early, double-digit hole it couldn’t climb out of was because of who was on the floor and who wasn’t. A reoccurring issue for K.J. Buffen reared its head again as the sophomore forward picked up two fouls less than eight minutes into the game. Breein Tyree followed suit and it put Kermit Davis in a bind, forcing him to go to a young and inexperienced bench early. The Rebels were already down Bryce Williams, who did not make the trip with a groin injury, SuperTalk has learned. Dude Collum, Franco Miller and Sammy Hunter played heavy minutes. That isn’t a recipe for offensive success for a team that already struggles to run half-court offense. The trio played a combined 56 minutes for the game.

The bottom line here is quite simple: Buffen has to stop fouling. This team is not equipped to withstand long stretches without him. The same goes for Tyree, who has not had the fouling plague as much as he’s struggled to consistently make perimeter jump shots.

2. Adding on to that, Ole Miss finished 16-of-52 from the field for the game. It was 7-of-25 in the first half. There is enough of a sample size through 13 games to declare the Rebels a poor offensive team. They lack a consistent low post threat (though Khadim Sy appears to be slowly evolving into one). Tyree and Devontae Shuler finished with nine and 12 points respectively. Shuler, who had four turnovers to two assists, is barely averaging double digit points per game.Tyree entered the day averaging 17.1 on 40 percent shooting and a 31 percent mark from three point range. Ole Miss needs its veteran back court to shoulder more of the offensive load, namely Shuler, who saw an uptick in scoring to begin the year but has fallen off as a consistent scoring threat after the first four games.

3. The bench is an issue. Ole Miss got a whopping 10 points from its bench in this game. Hunter plays with little confidence. Miller is no offensive threat but is playing more minutes than Williams because of Williams’ inability to defend opposing guards. Austin Crowley has shown flashes, but is just a freshman like Miller and Hunter. Relying on a trio of freshman and a junior college transfer to make an offensive impact off the bench is tough. Williams was productive for a three-game stretch in late November but Davis has struggled to keep him on the floor due to the defensive issues. The Rebels need to find a way to patch together some semblance of a productive bench. Right now they have more problems than solutions and no shot maker to turn to past their starting five.

4. It wasn’t all bad. Two games removed from a 20-point performance in that saved the Rebels in a win over Southeastern Louisiana, Khadim Sy finished this contest with 12 points and five rebounds. He’s scored in double digits in six consecutive games. He’s snared 29 rebounds over that span. For a guy that struggled with touch around the rim early in the season, he’s becoming a bit more of a consistent presence in the post for the Rebels. Davis experimented with a small-ball lineup earlier this year with Hinson and Buffen at the four and five spots and Luis Rodriguez at the three. That plan has since been nixed due to Hinson simply being not big enough to survive long stretches down low and Rodriguez being sidelined with a foot injury. That makes Sy’s production all the more crucial to this scuffling offensive team. 

5. Ole Miss trailed for all but 18 seconds of this game and finished the non-conference slate at a mark of 9-4. It has no bad losses and one quality win over Penn State. All four of the Rebels’ losses — Memphis, Oklahoma State, Butler and the Shockers — will likely be to NCAA Tournament teams. But Ole Miss was beaten soundly in all three contests. Even in the win over the 21st-ranked Nittany Lions, the team had to overcome a 21-point second half deficit. The Rebels are a decent defensive team, but are not nearly good enough to overcome their struggles on the offensive end. To the untrained eye, this team runs a lot of continuation sets as opposed to quick hitters to get open looks. Why is that? I am not sure, but it is not working and the team is struggling mightily on that end of the floor. Will Davis adapt and change up their offensive philosophy? Or will things eventually round into cohesive form?

Ole Miss will benefit from what appears to be a watered down SEC. There will be opportunities to stockpile wins, but that also means fewer opportunities for quality victories and more chances for NET pitfalls for a team that doesn’t always manufacture its own energy. Davis’ bunch eases into the SEC slate with a road game at a bad Texas A&M team on Tuesday before things stiffen up a bit with Arkansas, LSU and Florida. For now, Ole Miss has a lot of work to do on the offensive end and there seems to be more questions than answers.

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