Photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics
After missing the first four games of the season with a blood disorder, Blake Hinson is beginning to feel like himself again.
The sophomore led Ole Miss with 23 points in 39 minutes in an 83-67 win over Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday afternoon. Hinson didn’t expect to be playing 39 minutes in his fifth game back after two months of inactivity, but is rolling with the punches.
“You have to be ready for anything,” Hinson said. “I didn’t even realized I played 39 minutes. I think I handled it okay.”
Ole Miss’ bench is proving to be unreliable and thin through the early portion of the season, making Hinson’s return and services all the more invaluable. He and K.J. Buffen knew they would be called into larger roles this year with a reshaped front court and Terence Davis moving on to the NBA. Hinson is putting the ball on the floor more, driving the basket at a higher frequency and looking for more transition opportunities. It has paid off.
“I worked all summer on that,” Hinson said. “Me pushing the ball up the floor can create drastic matchup situations. That will help the team a bunch.”
Through eight games, Ole Miss’ struggles in half-court offense have caused it to start games slowly and fall into large deficits. The Rebels have struggled to move the basketball and sorely miss the athleticism of Terence Davis, who created offense in transition shot the ball well. The win over the road runners on Saturday was first time in four games Ole Miss has shot over 50 percent from the field (26-45) and the team looked much more composed on the offensive end. Kermit Davis called it Breein Tyree’s best game of the season. Tyree scored 20 with six assists and just one turnover. A slumping Devontae Shuler got going in the second half. Shuler finished with 15 points, six assists and no turnovers. And of course, Hinson’s contributions on the offensive end were greater than any other.
“We lost the myth, the legend, Terence Davis,” Hinson said. “Someone has to fill in those shoes. I am not saying I am going to fill them all the way in, but someone has to step up and fill that role.”
Four of the five starters played at least 38 minutes with Khadim Sy’s 17-minute contribution being the lone exception. There’s a reason for the heavy workload. The bench was awful. Kermit Davis grew frustrated with it and stopped subbing as much in the second half. The unit mustered just five points. Four of five bench players had a negative plus-minus mark with Sammy Hunter being the lone net positive. Austin Crowley and Bryce Williams combined for two points and a pair of turnovers. The Rebels had double-digit leads trimmed to a couple baskets with the bench players on the floor. It flummoxed Davis, who fears this will not bode well for his team in SEC play.
“I told our team that we cannot function like that with the league we are in,” Davis said. “They couldn’t guard their position. It seemed like every time we subbed, the game turned. Our starters gave good minutes and that is why the bench was really short.”
Ole Miss led Bakersfield by three at a halftime. Bakersfield hammered Ole Miss on the glass to the tune of a 32-23 advantage for the game and an 18-10 mark in the first 20 minutes. The Roadrunners are a good rebounding team that did the same to Gonzaga in a loss. The Rebels pulled away late, but Bakersfield trailed by as few as six points with just over four minutes to go.
In his return back to Oxford, Rod Barnes fell victim to a quick whistle. He was awarded two technical fouls back-to-back and ejected from the game with 12 minutes remaining. The home crowd, interestingly enough, booed the occurrence and cheered Barnes as he walked off the court as his team trailed by seven. In his postgame presser, Barnes discussed his return, what Ole Miss means to him and his early departure.
Ole Miss got back in the win column after back-to-back losses. It looked more competent offensively but struggled on the defensive end, particularly when it went to the bench. The Rebels are now 6-3 and have some issues to sort out rotation-wise and in half-court offense. But the offense was enough for a win on this day.
“I thought the scoring was really balanced,” Davis said. “We got to the free throw line. . We are sure happy to get the win today.”