Photo credit: Ole Miss Athletics
OXFORD — In a season mired in frustration, Ole Miss put together its best offensive performance of the season in an 86-60 win over a hapless Vanderbilt team.
All five starters scored in double figures, and the regular catalyst — All-SEC guard Breein Tyree — actually had the fewest points of any starter with 11. Devontae Shuler led all scorers with 18 points, K.J. Buffen complimented that with 17 and Khadim Sy had 12 points and six rebounds.
Sy struggled badly in the team’s loss to Auburn on Tuesday, a game in which he was a non-factor with zero points on a single shot attempt.
“I think Khadim felt a little bit bad about the Auburn game,” Kermit Davis said. “He’s had a couple really good practices. I thought he came out really vocal and gave us a great lift in the first half.”
Ole Miss totaled 26 assists on 35 made baskets. That, coupled with the balance scoring that took pressure off the heavily-taxed Tyree, made for the Rebels’ most complete offensive performance of the season.
“The way the ball moved, Breein only had to play 30 minutes,” Davis said. “Just the ball movement, how it was shared, We had a few really great possessions in the second half.”
Vanderbilt struggled to get to the rim, and when it did, the struggle to finish was even greater. The Commodores shot just 34 percent from the field and had six shots blocked. The Rebels entered the game ranked last in the SEC in blocked shots. Sy, freshman Sammy Hunter and K.J. Buffen protected the rim well and frustrated Vanderbilt’s guards. Ejike Obina led the Commordores in scoring with 13 points. Saben Lee added 10 more.
“Attention to details that we talked about before the game were not good all day long,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Steakhouse said. “We had opportunities, even with the blocked shots. We had guys on the perimeter standing wide open. They converged on the ball and we had opportunities to spray the ball and didn’t do it.”
Ole Miss’ ballooned its lead to double digits with a 19-5 run to close the first half. The Rebels led 43-27 at halftime and never led by fewer than 12 points the rest of the way.
The 86 points were a season high as were the 26 assists. Forty of those 86 were scored in the painted area. Sy thrived down low and the guards drove to the rim with purpose and efficiency. Tyree made only one three-point shot and the Rebels had just nine as a team. Buffen’s 17 points came on an efficient 8-11 shooting and he snared six rebounds. There was a conscious effort to get the ball inside early and Sy was up to the task. Ole Miss also held a 37-33 advantage on the glass.
“I am just trying to do whatever coach wants me to do in practice,” Sy said. “He has been telling me to be more physical around the rim, finish through contact, to gather myself and shoot with balance. That is really what I have been paying attention to the last couple of weeks.”
The Auburn game notwithstanding, Sy’s play over the last three weeks has improved. He’s been a more consistent finisher and rebounder.
Vanderbilt is a last-place team for a reason and Ole Miss handled them accordingly. It has been a frustrating season for Davis and the Rebels, who feel they underperformed in January and have been unable to account for it in February.
On Saturday, their clean offensive performance was rewarded with a win.