Terence Davis released his grip of the rim and began his descent to the floor as the 8,200 in the Pavilion seats rose to its feet following a dunk from the senior guard that injected energy into a building already brimming with it.
Davis’ dunk gave Ole Miss a 63-57 lead amidst an 11-3 run that essentially sealed the game in its 82-67 win over 11th-ranked Auburn, cementing the first signature moment since the The Pavilion was opened in January of 2016.
“Ever since I came to Ole Miss, I feed off the crowd,” Terence Davis said. “If it is a full house, man, you are going to get the best of me.”
Davis dropped 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting in a game the Rebels led wire-to-wire to move to 12-2 on the season and 2-0 in the SEC. Ole Miss is becoming a story, one that is the surprise of the conference in this young SEC season.
Ole Miss spent $96 million for nights like these. As the construction crew broke ground on a patch of dirt and concrete in the sweltering July heat in 2014, visions of environments like the one on Wednesday evening filled the imagination of Ross Bjork.
“That is what this was built for,” Bjork said. “Loud, students right on top of the court. Obviously, with being 11-2 coming into this game and people being excited about Kermit and the culture he is building, that is what you envision.”
The team undoubtedly fed off of the energy, as Terence Davis mentioned. Auburn came into this game as the best offensive rebounding team in the SEC, collecting 15.4 per game. Ole Miss beat the Tigers on the glass, 45-37.
“You get out-rebounded like we did, pretty significantly, they got too many of their misses” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “They were more aggressive, they were more physical and they were tougher.”
Ole Miss turned Auburn over 18 times and recorded 11 steals. Auburn made run after run, shaving the margin to as slim as two points. The Rebels answered each time.
“It’s fun to see, in year one, for us to play well in front of that crowd,” Kermit Davis said. “We responded to each of their runs and that is what good teams do. It kind of got sideways a little bit as they cut it to three our four and we kept making plays offensively.”
For the second game in row, Ole Miss went to a 2-3 zone late and it carried them home yet again. The zone caused Vanderbilt issues in the waning minutes of the Rebels’ win in Nashville. This time, it came at the suggestion of assistant coach Ronnie Hamilton and it gave the Tigers similar problems.
“I thought that was the turning point,” Kermit Davis said. “It was a great suggestion. Our guys really played out of that zone and contested shots.”
Ole Miss survived a 1-of-10 shooting night from Breein Tyree, who had five points a game after dropping 31 in Nashville. The Rebels rode Terence Davis on the offensive end, rode its defense down the stretch and rode the energy inside the gym for the entirety.
“It was special to me to see the fanbase come together,” Kermit Davis said. “That is what high-level college basketball is all about.”
“Great environment, great crowd,” Pearl said. “It is good for the league that Kermit Davis has this program playing like they are. We’ve played well here. Haven’t always won, but we have played well here. We won last year and blew a big lead two years ago. I would say this is the loudest it has been.”
On the surface, this was only one win. Ole Miss has 16 more of these to play in the regular season and is a long way away from the finish line. Any postseason prognostication is premature at this juncture. It knows that. Terence Davis said it himself, that it was just another win and that the team has a journey ahead. Kermit Davis echoed that and the reaction of his team in the locker room after the game was telling, in his mind.
“They are going to enjoy it, but I thought our team handled it in a mature way,” Kermit Davis said. “We are going to see that team once, maybe twice more this year.”
But at the same time, this wasn’t just another win. It’s the first time the Rebels have beaten a ranked team since 2015, before the building opened. Kermit Davis has mentioned since he arrived in Oxford about selling the fan base on his product, the program and urging them to buy stock in it. This was a step towards doing that, but more of a leap than others along the way.
As Terence Davis floated down towards the ground, the crowd erupted in a manner that sounded like a real, tangible home-court advantage in major college hoops. The Rebels still have a long way to go. A ranked Mississippi State team awaits them in Starkville on Saturday. But Kermit Davis can’t help but be pleased with the start and the rapid pace at which it has come.
“To me, it is only the beginning,” Bjork said. “It is a long season and we have a long way to go, but this builds a ton of excitement.”