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Five Observations from Ole Miss’ win over Penn State in Brooklyn

Ole Miss pulled off its biggest comeback in nearly three seasons with a 74-72 win over Penn State at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon.

The Rebels trailed by 21 points with 16 minutes remaining  and closed the game on a 22-6 run over the last four minutes. The surge made amends for a horrific first half that saw Ole Miss quickly fall behind by double digits through a slew of turnovers and defensive dysfunction.  The Rebels turned the basketball over just one time in the final 20 minutes after 14 in the first half and held a 38-33 advantage on the glass.

Breein Tyree led with 18 points and Blake Hinson added 17 on 6-10 shooting with six rebounds. The effect Hinson has had on this team since returning from a blood irregularity in last Saturday’s loss to Memphis is palpable.

Here are five thoughts from the win.

  1. After a dreadful first half in which he did not score, Tyree poured in 18-second half points and hit a pair of crucial shots in the game’s final minutes to help the Rebels cap a comeback. He had avoided a charging foul with nifty finish in transition for an and-one that tied the game at 70 and hit a mid-range jumper a possession later that tied it at 72. Tyree has struggled shooting the basketball through the early point of the season. Kermit Davis thinks Tyree too often settles for perimeter jump shots as opposed to driving to the rim, a sentiment that, at times, can be applicable to the whole team. Tyree is at his best when he attacks to the rim to compliment one of the better mid-range games in the SEC.  His second-half performance helped fuel this comeback.

2. Bryce Williams was huge off the bench with 15 points. He was a perfect 3-3 rom three-point range in the second half and helped Ole Miss overcome a bad game from point guard Devontae Shuler. The back-up point guard slot is still a bit of a mystery on this team when Shuler — the most valuable player on the 2018 squad — comes off the floor. Kermit Davis has slid Tyree to the point at times and played Williams some there too. The junior-college transfer had been building towards a breakout game and delivered it in a timely spot. His emergence as a reliable ball handler and scorer off the bench could change this team’s ceiling and will be immensely valuable.

3. Shuler struggled for the second consecutive game. He did not score and was 0-5 from the field with three assists and two turnovers in 30 minutes. Shuler was bothered by Memphis’ perimeter pressure in Saturday’s loss. He wore down and scored just eight points with a couple turnovers. It was a little bit more of the same against the Nittany Lions. The Rebels turned the basketball over 14 times in the first half alone. That can’t be placed entirely on the guards, but Shuler’s struggles and the back-court’s tendency to lapse in transition defense is something to monitor going forward, especially considering the veteran duo of Shuler and Tyree were thought to be what drives this team.

4. K.J. Buffen played 39 minutes without fouling out, a positive sign after being entangled in foul trouble through the first five games. He scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished four assists and swiped four steals in this game. Buffen has the potential to be an All-SEC-caliber player for the Rebels this year and be a 15-10 guy in SEC play, if he can stay on the court. His length at the top of the Rebels’ 1-3-1 zone is problematic for opposing guard’s. Buffen’s steal in the final minute help set up Williams’ free throws that sealed the win. Buffen is this team’s most versatile asset and can impact a game in more ways than anyone on the roster if he can remain on the floor and play without fouling.

5. The team announced before the game that Luis Rodriguez will miss 6-8 weeks with a foot injury he suffered in the morning shootaround before the game. Rodriguez, a started who the coaching staff said made the biggest jump of anyone on the roster during the offseason , started all five games before the injury. What does his absence mean? Blake Hinson will start at the three with Buffen and the four and Sy at the five going forward. Kermit Davis talked a lot during the preseason about a small-ball lineup featuring Rodriguez at the three, Hinson at the four and Buffen sliding to the five. The lineup was deployed last Saturday in Hinson’s first game and it did not fare particularly well, granted the Tigers have a pair of monsters in the paint in Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffreys. But if Ole Miss learned anything from the loss to the Tigers, its that they need Sy on the floor a lot and to be a productive big. So while Rodriguez’s injury isn’t devastating from a production standpoint, it does limit Davis’ front-court depth and lineup flexibility, and makes Buffen and Sy avoiding foul trouble all the more imperative. It’s worth mentioning Sammy Hunter struggled in this win and that Carlos Curry did not play once again.

The Rebels play the winner of Oklahoma State and Syracuse on Friday.

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