Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ not-as-close-as-the-score 73-63 loss at LSU …
The Georgia game is an outlier, but for the most part Ole Miss has presented itself as a team that plays hard and close at home – without making the necessary clutch plays to win – and a team that is less impressive on the road.
This week the Rebels had the big lead against Auburn in the second half and couldn’t hold on.
In Baton Rouge there was far less drama. Ole Miss was in it for about 5 minutes when Devontae Shuler’s hot start gave the Rebels a 9-7 lead. From there LSU was in control.
The Tigers were more athletic and more physical in the post, and that’s what gave them the upper hand.
Having been torched by Breein Tyree for 36 points in Oxford two weeks ago they were determined not to let that happen again.
They shadowed Tyree early, mostly with Javonte Smart, denying him the ball whenever possible.
Sensing this, Tyree’s first shot was a pull-up 3 in transition that was off the mark. Transition 3s aren’t high percentage shots and are taken for only two reasons. Either you’ve hit a few shots and are “feeling it,” or you’re trying to shoot yourself into rhythm. For Tyree it was the latter, a gamble that failed, and he remained out of rhythm most of the half.
Tyree got on the board with free throws and scored five of his nine points in the Rebels’ 12-0 run to start the second half.
That run, though, still left Ole Miss eight points back because it was 20 points down at halftime.
LSU coach Will Wade called time before the 16:00 mark and the first media timeout. (For the record, I myself never call for a media timeout.) LSU came back on the court, reasserted itself in the paint and regained control.
Most of the second half was just two teams going through the motions. The Tigers had pushed the lead up to 21 points with less than 7 minutes to play.
The Rebels just weren’t physical enough in the post to keep up. Sometimes they weren’t aggressive either. That changed a little bit after halftime, and Khadim Sy and KJ Buffen got some things done around the goal when the game had less intensity.
Blake Hinson didn’t get anything done at any time, and that hurt since he began the day as the Rebels’ second-leading scorer at 11.1 points a game.
Hinson was shut out, scoreless while shooting 0 for 6 from the floor, 0 for 4 from the 3-point line and 0 for 2 from the free throw line.
It was an odd game for Hinson. Early on he seemed determined to take Davis’ advice, driving the ball hard into the paint a couple of times. He made an effort to be the player his coach has asked him to be but found no success getting his shot blocked hard on one occasion.
It was later in the first half before Hinson attempted his first 3-pointer.
Lack of early success and foul trouble led to the worst game of his career. He was scoreless last March against Kentucky but was just 0 for 4 from the floor then.
There was early foul trouble for Sy and Buffen too, and all three would eventually foul out.
Foul trouble was such a problem in the first half that guys like Carlos Curry, Antavion Collum and Sammy Hunter were getting lots of action as Davis dug deep into his bench.
That’s a big difference from the Georgia and Auburn games when Davis basically used a seven-man rotation.
Davis recognized LSU’s physicality edge and tried to combat that by not starting Sy and going small at the tip with an extra guard in the lineup in Bryce Williams.
Williams didn’t hurt the Rebels with turnovers but wasn’t very productive as he missed all three shot attempts.
Whatever production the Rebels could find came from Shuler who posted a career-high for the second time this week with 28 points.
Maybe the week can boost Shuler’s confidence and have him become the better offensive player that was expected this season.
As for the week, Shuler’s rise coincided with Tyree’s fall and doesn’t help the big picture. After putting up 26, 27, 36, 18 and 20 in the games prior to Auburn Tyree has now scored eight and nine in his last two games.
There was a path for a return NCAA trip for this team, but it always included two aggressive scoring guards not just one.
The path also included more toughness and physicality from Sy and a quicker acclimation to SEC play for freshmen Austin Crowley and Hunter.
Ole Miss needed to check all those boxes to have a chance to dance, and it’s checked none.
So the Rebels find themselves under .500 for their first time with Davis as coach and entrenched – most likely with Georgia, Missouri and Vanderbilt – in that dreadful Wednesday night SEC tournament slot.
It’s not a great spot to be in for Kermit II. Davis will build the Rebels out of this, but there may not be much more visible building this season.