He plays with an edge that operates as a mechanism to broadcast a passion for his craft.
Blake Hinson loves basketball, and he’ll be glad to tell you how much. On this day, evidence of that bled through his 26 point, five-rebound performance in an 81-77 win over Mississippi State as Ole Miss picked off its second top-15 team in 72 hours.
“It was super fun,” Hinson said.”I love basketball and this was a great basketball atmosphere. I was loving every part of it.”
He shimmied after he drilled a three. He took it a step too far at times and was assessed an offsetting technical in the first half. He light heartedly taunted the crowd. Above all of that, he grabbed a trio of man-sized rebounds down the stretch and made 8-of-16 shots to earn the 26 points, nine of which kept Ole Miss at arm’s length when things got dire early in the second half.
“Mississippi State is a good rebounding team,” Kermit Davis said. “In this game, it is two-haded rebounds, man-sized rebounds. He went up and got some huge balls through traffic late.”
The mental resolve of this team has been tested more than once this year and its feet were tied to the fire once again in a gym that was sold out with the overwhelming majority anxiously waiting for it to fail. Ole Miss trailed by double digits in a first half that saw them miss 15 of its last 22 shots, Terence Davis pick up three fouls and the game drift away from them. But once again, they refused to come unglued. They closed the half on a 14-6 spurt and trailed by just two points at 41-39.
“I thought the last six minutes (of the first half) were the key to the game,” Kermit Davis said. “We were down 10, kind of spiraling, TD picks up his third and I thought we just kind of held tight… We just kind of stopped the bleeding and got into halftime.”
Mississippi State applied the pressure again to start the second half quickly jumped back in front by eight. Not much was going right for Ole Miss in its half court offense and Hinson kept them afloat. He had a stretch of three straight triples that shaved the margin to two points as the Rebels began to find their footing.
“I was just kind of feeling it and my teammates found me too,” Hinson said. “They told me in the huddle to keep shooting and they kept feeding me. They knew I was feeling it.”
In some ways, this was the perfect game for Hinson to parlay into his introduction to the SEC and college hoops as a whole. It was chippy. It was a rivalry game that carried significance for the first time in over a decade. It was nationally televised on CBS. Hinson flashed his personality and repeatedly reminded people of his skill. He’s a valuable stretch four that can be slotted in multiple positions and is only going to get stronger physically.
Oh, yeah, and he is only a freshman.
“Blake gets here early every single day,” Kermit Davis said. “When he shows up at the gym, he runs in full speed. That is just kind of how he’s built.”
A 10-2 run with just over eight minutes to go gave Ole Miss a 70-62 lead and it clung for dear life until the final second melted off the clock. The Rebels crashed the glass hard late and ran good half court offense. A lot of that is due to the stable hand of point guard Devontae Shuler, who is the most invaluable cog of this operation. His switch from wing to point guard has allowed Breein Tyree to play off the ball and Ole Miss is a better team because of it.
“He is a stabilizer on our team,” Kermit Davis said. “He runs sets. He is so unselfish and gets us into what we are trying to do. These guys can tell you, we have Breein and TD and all of these guys, but Devontae plays most valuable minutes every night for us.
Tyree had 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting and Terence Davis had 12 with five rebounds. Shuler grabbed six boards of his own. It wasn’t always pretty, but Ole Miss stayed the course. It survived a game-tying three with under 90 seconds left on a miscommunication on an out-of-bounds play that left Nick Weatherspoon wide open. It missed a chance to ice the game when Devontae Shuler missed the front end of a one-and-one that kept it at a two-point point game with less than a minute left. The Rebels responded each time and wrote another chapter in what is becoming the story of the SEC.
“We’ve talked about the fact we are going to go through pockets of adversity against good teams,” Kermit Davis said. “We’ve said since day one that the toughest things we go through in practice that builds you for these moments.”
To put it bluntly, no one saw this coming. The Rebels were projected to finish last in the league, and with good reason coming off a 12-20 season with a new coach. But the cupboard wasn’t completely bare. It had a trio of experienced guards in Tyree, Shuler and Terence Davis. Kermit Davis brought Hinson and K.J. Buffen with him and the results from that blend are proving be fruitful.
The season is young, but Ole Miss is perched in a position that it wasn’t to be sitting in at 13-2 and 3-0 in league play, resting atop the SEC. The Rebels will be ranked next week and will continue to garner national attention. Playing the scrappy underdog is an easier role than when the spotlight is gleaning on you. How will they handle it? Keeping everything in their orbit simple.
“I think we will respond well,” Tyree said. “The key with this team is following the scouting report Coach gives us. If we attack that in practice, when the game comes we will know what to do.”
Ole Miss rode a freshman to a road win against a ranked team. Hinson was the story of this game and the edge he brings with him. It’s largely fueled by confidence, something he is not short on.
“Every day we feel like a nationally ranked team,” Hinson said. “We feel like we should be in all of the national games and we feel like we are one of the best team. As long as we believe that, we should be okay.”