Notes and thoughts on a 68-51 win over Florida …

It was without doubt the Rebels’ best performance of the season. Only two wins come close to it in my mind, the South Carolina game earlier in the week and the Penn State game in November.

Against Penn State the Rebels needed a miraculous second-half comeback to win. It wasn’t their best 40 minutes.

Against South Carolina defending dribble-drive penetration was a game-long problem even though the Rebels won 84-70. They simply couldn’t stop Carolina’s Maik Kotsar when he put the ball on the floor to make a move.

Saturday at The Pavilion the defensive numbers were impressive, the Gators shooting just 33.3 percent.

A big part of that defense can be attributed to the style of officiating which was at times confusing. Officials let the teams play in the paint much more than you typically see in this “freedom of movement” era, yet they would other times call touch fouls on the perimeter. That was what they tagged Khadim Sy with in the second half when he picked up his third foul.

For the most part it was a physical game in the post with bodies spilling onto the floor a few times.

An Ole Miss frontcourt that hasn’t always been able to be physical without fouling was able to play with the Gators’ bigger and more naturally physical frontcourt.

Ole Miss sophomore KJ Buffen played what coach Kermit Davis called his best college game as he narrowly missed a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds. Buffen also had four assists and no turnovers in 38 minutes.

Blake Hinson played with effort too. I’ve written recently about Hinson trying to remake himself and drive hard to the rim more. Sometimes it seems he still has to be reminded about that. He launched an early 3-point shot, a miss, and Davis could clearly be heard shouting “drive it.” In the end Hinson attempted three 3-pointers, hitting one. Earlier in SEC play he went a stretch of five games where he attempted six, five, seven, eight and six 3-pointers.

He’s working to be the physical driver his coach wants him to be. The next stop for Hinson will be finishing through contact.

He only got to the free throw line twice yesterday. It sounds like not a lot of reward for his effort, but it goes back to the style of officiating, and that was a benefit for Ole Miss.

Florida attempted only 11 free throws (hitting 10) which was the fewest attempts by an Ole Miss opponent in conference play.

In the eight games before Florida opponents all attempted at least 23 free throws. Auburn and LSU surpassed the 30-free throw mark. So did Wichita State in the game before the start of SEC play.

Style of officiating was a factor Saturday, but credit Buffen and his mates for taking advantage of that syle and making plays.

Beyond the defense the Rebels hit shots on their offensive end.

If this team was going to truly challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid it was going too have to have its experienced guards playing great at the same time, and that just hasn’t happened much if at all. It did yesterday.

Devontae Shuler seems to have found himself on offense of late, and he was timely and efficient against the Gators with 14 points on 5 for 9 shooting with five assists and no turnovers. He also had three rebounds with five assists, three steals and just two turnovers.

The key to this team all season has been Tyree, and he was on again yesterday with 23 points on 9 for 19 shooting. He was 4 for 6 from 3-point range, 3 for 4 in the second half.

I would say it’s a given that he’ll be named SEC player of the week Monday, but you just never know how those things are going to turn out.

Tyree hit big, timely shots from the mid-range and from the 3-point line when the Gators switched defenses and did other things to take away driving angles.

Ole Miss was only minus-1 on the glass, which for the Rebels is a win.

The sum total of all the parts was the best game of the season for Ole Miss. It gives the Rebels back-to-back SEC wins for the first time and makes them 2-1 in the month as Davis challenges them to “win February.”

It’s a good thought, but the February Championship is not going to be enough to get them in the NCAA Tournament conversation after digging so deep a hole.

Winning out would leave the Rebels 11-7 in conference play. Maybe there would be enough Quadrant 1 wins there to have a chance, but it’s a bit of a stretch to think they’ll pull that off. They still have Mississippi State twice plus road games at Kentucky and Auburn.

If Ole Miss can maintain the new level of play it showed in the past week perhaps it can make an NIT appearance.

It’s not what folks wanted back in November, but the reality is there were a number of things that had to happen for this team to return to The Dance – mostly having newcomers like Sy, Austin Crowley and Sammy Hunter adapt quickly and be productive. They also needed to avoid injuries which hasn’t happened.

Finally they’ve been able to check off one box with Shuler and Tyree playing great at the same time. That must continue.

After a 1-7 SEC start it’s important that Davis recapture this team and help it be competitive to at least be able to carry some type of momentum in a continuing rebuild as some exciting young talent arrives next year.

These last two games have been a big start in accomplishing that goal.

parrish.alford@journalinc.com

Twitter: @parrishalford

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