Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 71-43 season-opening win over Arkansas State …

Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis wasn’t very pleased with the Rebels’ performance in their exhibition win over Mississippi College on Monday.

Four days later it looked like his “coachin’ up” took hold, at least defensively.

Arkansas State hit a couple of 3-point shots in the first half but could never get into a rhythm with its halfcourt offense. The Rebels were getting hands in the passing lanes for steals and forcing turnovers.

The Red Wolves return just one starter from a team that won only 13 games last year, so take that into consideration, but they had some skill offensively, and Ole Miss players seemed to guard the bounce better than they did against MC. They were beaten to the rim less.

I thought we saw a better version of Luis Rodriguez. Davis was critical of the 6-foot-6 sophomore Monday night when he failed to get even one rebound.

He suggested then that Davis would not start the season opener, but he did, which makes me think the hustle returned in practice. Rodriguez was only 2-for-8 shooting, but he had six rebounds, three assists and three steals – with just one turnover – in 25 minutes.

Austin Crowley, competing with Rodriguez at the 3, was good again, but he picked up five fouls in 10 minutes. He’s not going to help the Rebels much if he can’t stay on the floor for longer periods of time.

When he wasn’t fouling Crowley was good in the hustle stats again with two rebounds and an assist. He also managed to get off four shots in 10 minutes – all 3-pointers – and hit two of them.

Davis wasn’t pleased with the inefficiency the Rebels showed in the second half after the lead had reached 29, but that was more a function of moving so many guys in and out and players not being on the floor long enough to find a rhythm, I believe.

The Rebels had some empty trips on offense, but the game never deteriorated to the point that you thought Arkansas State was going to slice significantly into the Rebels’ lead. The Red Wolves never got closer than 21 back which they achieved with 11:38 left.

Offensively it was good to see another strong game for KJ Buffen who played mostly at the 4. He hit a 3-point shot early. He doesn’t need to look for that shot often, but he needs to hit it enough to make opponents respect him. After the 3 Buffen did his thing inside using angles and position to get good looks and going 5-for-6 from the floor. He finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.

It’s big to get this from Buffen while Blake Hinson is out. Even when Hinson comes out it will take him a while to round back into form. Assuming that he does the Rebels stand to be deep at the 4.

Davis in the preseason wondered aloud where to play 6-9 freshman Sammy Hunter, whether that would be the 4 or 5. Right now Hunter looks like the primary backup to Khadim Sy at the 5.

I keep waiting to be impressed by Hunter. It’s still early of course. You can see the athleticism, but that hasn’t translated to points yet. He was 0-for-2 shooting in 17 minutes last night. One of those misses was a 3-pointer. He also had two rebounds and two assists.

Sy was impressive. He wasn’t credited with a blocked shot on the stat sheet, but I thought he had one that started a transition. He’s a better defensive presence than the Rebels have had in the post in the last two years. He passes well from the post too, and that can be another weapon.

Junior college transfer guard Bryce Williams played 14 minutes last night. It won’t be surprising to see his role increase. He plays with a high motor but played within himself. He took only one shot, an athletic effort in which he worked his way to a cleaner look in traffic. He also had two assists and two turnovers.

Davis said he wasn’t worried about Breein Tyree who was 2-for-9 shooting and 1-for-7 from 3. Tyree has made enough big buckets that he deserves that benefit of the doubt, but it’s disturbing that an experienced senior would so quickly disregard the mid-range jumper and attacking the rim, the best components of his game.

We’re just an exhibition and a regular season game into this thing, so lots will change. If I had to guess I’d say this could whittle down to a nine-player rotation when Hinson returns with Crowley, Hunter, Williams and Hinson/Buffen coming off the bench.

parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Twitter: @parrishalford

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