Photo credit: Petre Thomas — Ole Miss Athletics
Kermit Davis doesn’t think his team fits the mold of a group that is 1-6 in SEC play. He believes Ole Miss is improving
But after a back-breaking 83-82 loss in double overtime to 16th-ranked Auburn, that’s precisely the Rebels’ reality.
They blew a 17-point halftime lead — the fourth double-digit advantage they’ve squandered in seven league games — and couldn’t overcome the loss of Breein Tyree down the stretch as Ole Miss let another quadrant-one opportunity slip from their grasp.
“Just disappointed for our team,” Davis said. “We don’t feel like a 1-6 team, don’t look like one either but we are one. We have to do the things at the end of games to win. We could easily right in the middle of it.”
This game forced Ole Miss to overcome its overarching issue: the lack of a secondary scorer and shot maker to compliment All-SEC guard Breein Tyree. Auburn has held its opponents’ leading scoring under his scoring average in all 20 contests it has played this year. This one was no different as Tyree fouled out with five minutes left in regulation with just eight points, ten below his season average of 18.9 points per game.
The Rebels overcame this flaw to some degree, but were unable to run coherent offense in the final minutes of regulation as their lead simultaneously melted away. Tyree picked up his fifth with 5:15 remaining in regulation as Ole Miss led 63-54. The Rebels did not record another field goal once he exited as they limped into overtime on the crutch of a few gutsy defensive stops down the stretch.
Tyree’s exit provided an opportunity for Bruce Pearl to deploy a full-court press it hadn’t shown all year. The scheme put pressure on a fatigued Devontae Shuler and an inexperienced Austin Crowley. Ole Miss was sped up and disoriented and Auburn pounced at the opportunity
“Our coaches did a good job putting it in this week thinking it could keep them off balance,” Pearl said. “It sped them up on a lead. They took some shots Kermit would probably have not liked them to take.”
Davis’ group looked like a shot fighter as overtime beckoned, but hung in there for a few more blows. A Devontae Shuler floater with three minutes remaining the first overtime period snapped a seven-minute field goal drought. He had 26 point in this game. Blake Hinson had 16 and Khadim Sy scored 13 with seven rebounds. The secondary scoring behind Tyree was there for the second consecutive game, but Ole Miss was disjointed on that end of the floor in the game’s most crucial minutes.
Despite it all, Ole Miss had a chance to win the game at the end of each overtime period. Execution was again an issue. The Rebels had possession of the basketball with 2.2 seconds left at the end of the first overtime. Kermit Davis called timeout and drew up a play, only to have Devontae Shuler sling the inbounds pass out out of play on the near sideline and give Auburn another crack at ending the game.
Ole Miss led 82-78 in the second overtime after what might have been its two best half-court possessions without Tyree thanks to a pair of K.J. Buffen successful drives to the rim.
“We took advantage of K.J. at the five with Wiley guarding him. He took advantage of some isolation stuff we ran. I thought K.J. really competed and Devontae drove the ball,” Davis said.
But Auburn scored on its next three possessions and Ole Miss was unable to do the same on its final three trips. Blake Hinson snared a defensive rebound with nine seconds left and hesitated before racing the up the court. Davis held his last timeout as Auburn flashed a zone, hoping for a look near the rim with the chance for a foul. But Hinson settled for contested three that clung off the iron.
“You can’t settle at the end of these games,” Davis said. “You have to drive the ball. We settled at times tonight.”
The end result was a familiar one for a team that is struggling to close out games. The first half of this contest went as scripted. Ole Miss prevented Auburn’s from beating defenders off the bounce and made the Tigers settle for 12 three-point shots of which they only made one. The Auburn was 6-28 from the field in the fist half. But the second half was an entirely different story as guards Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick began to get to the rim and get fouled. Doughty scored 14 of his 16 in the second half. Isaac Okoro hurt the Rebels inside and six Tiger threes were too much for the Rebels to overcome.
“I feel like we miscommunicated on defense, in pressing and having guys in the right spot,” Shuler said. “That is really what cost us the game. Not communicating. Any loss for me is tough, but I will handle this the same way. I will come back and practice harder.”
Ole Miss is now 10-10 with a daunting road trip at LSU ahead. The Rebels have been close and are playing a better brand of basketball than they were a couple weeks ago, but their fatal flaws have kept them from the win column in a stretch that now stands at six losses the last seven games.
“We just have to keep fighting it,” Davis said. “That’s all we can do. We have another opportunity on Saturday. That’s college basketball.”