photo credit: Joshua McCoy — Ole Miss Athletics
OXFORD– For roughly 29 minutes, Ole Miss played pretty clean basketball, particularly on the defensive end of the floor in a 65-52 over Seattle to close out a perfect four-game homestand to begin the 2019 season.
The final 11 minutes of the game, however, were tough on the eyes of head coach Kermit Davis as his reserves roamed the floor and allowed the Redhawks to claw back to a respectable deficit. As discomforting as it was for Davis to watch, it was also useful evidence, he thinks.
“That last probably eight minutes or so was about as embarrassed as I have ever been as a coach last Ole Miss,” an agitated Davis said. “Maybe some of those guys who where in the the game at the time proved me right as to what their role is right now. That is ridiculous to allow them to end the game on a 17-2 run. That is just where we are at right now with some of the guys on our team.”
Seattle had mustered just 24 points with 11 minutes remaining in the game and trailed by 28. The Rebels allowed 28 points to close the game. Ole Miss scored just once in the final six minutes. Who were the guys on the floor? Fringe reserves in five-man Carlos Curry, guard Franco Miller, forward Antavion Collum, guard Bryce Williams and starting center Khadim Sy.
What do all of those guys have in common aside from Sy? They’re all guys fighting to round out the end of the rotation. Williams has played fine through the first four games, but Curry and Miller didn’t do themselves any favors with their performance on Tuesday.
It was another slog offensively, something that is becoming an early trend with this team, particularly in half-court offense. The ball movement is stagnant and seldom sees both sides of the floor more than once on a given possession. It has produced a handful of slow starts and this game was no different. Ole Miss was just 21-49 from the floor for the game and went 4-of-17 from the three-point line.
“I told them to get ready to try to win some games in the 50s and 60s because we don’t execute offensively,” Davis said. The ball sticks. We don’t cut and move, and no offense to the four teams we have played, but it is about to really change here in the next couple of weeks. Good for us though. We have guarded and things like that. But we don’t trust it offensively. I haven’t had a team do that in a long time.”
Buffen led with 13 points and maneuvered through some early foul trouble. Ole Miss can’t afford for that to be a lingering issue. They need Buffen on the floor and to shy away from foolish fouls that will confine him to the bench for extended periods of time.
“Just me being dumb,” Buffen said. “A guy fouled me and I felt like I needed to foul him back. It’s just me being dumb.”
Buffen pulled eight rebounds. Breein Tyree had 10 points and five early assists. His assist numbers are up from a season ago. It’s just four games, but Tyree is distributing the basketball well and making Davis more willing to play him at point guard when needed, something that usually spelled trouble last season, which is little fault of Tyree’s and more so a product of the way the team was constructed. As Davis waits to see if Miller or Williams will take control of the backup point guard job, Tyree remains an option.
The offensive struggles are mildly alarming, but it is early in the season. Davis was the bearer of good news that should help with the offensive cohesion: Blake Hinson has been cleared for contact and will play at Memphis on Saturday. Hinson missed the first four games with a blood irregularity discovered in the offseason. Hinson’s presence on the floor brings with it both an experienced guy that knows how to run offense and a voice to a team still trying to sort things out.
“It will be good to have him out there,” Davis said. “His voice and passion to play is exciting for me.”
The schedule stiffens with a road game at Memphis on Saturday before a trip to Brooklyn to play Penn State and either Syracuse or Oklahoma State. That trip is followed by a home game with Butler.
The Rebels have a long way to go on the offensive end of the floor. This game was evidence of that. But the season is still young and Hinson’s return will help.
Tipoff Saturday in FedEx Forum is slated for noon.