Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 87-86 loss at Memphis …

After four home wins against decent but not great competition a road game at No. 16 Memphis was the test this team needed, and while the Rebels did not win they learned some things and had some guesses confirmed.

The Rebels can be pretty good defensively, but they’ve got a lot of improving to do, and they’ve got to learn to guard without fouling, especially against athletic teams like Memphis.

Ole Miss sent Memphis to the free throw line 19 times in the first half alone. The Rebels were able to take an early lead and hold on to it until the 5 minute mark of the first half, but the free throws kept the Tigers just a bucket away, and when they started finding angles they took over.

Foul trouble was a problem for Ole Miss with five different players having two fouls in the first half including center Khadim Sy who played only four of the first 20 minutes.

Sy was a difference maker when he came back in what I thought was his best game. He had nine points, six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots all in the second half.

If yesterday was really Sy’s coming out party that’s big news and timely as well as the Rebels take on Penn State, Oklahoma State or Syracuse and Butler in the coming days.

Last year the Rebels’ NCAA resume was built on neutral site or road wins, and Wednesday’s game against Penn State will be big in that regard.

Sy showed he could stay on the floor with four fouls in the second half but ultimately fouled out in the final seconds on a foul that really wasn’t smart. The Rebels were trying to foul to stop the clock and Sy elected to be the one to just grab a Memphis player. Had the game gone to overtime he wouldn’t have been around.

Sophomore KJ Buffen, who has been the Rebels’ top low-post scorer, fouled out with 10 minutes, 10 seconds on the clock.

As improved as Buffen has been this season foul trouble remains a problem for him.

This is a good defensive team, but Buffen and others have got to learn to guard without fouling nearly as much.

Blake Hinson did some good things and not so good things in his first game back. He had 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, 4-for-7 from 3.

Not all of his 3s were taken within the framework of the offense. He also needs to be more willing to put the ball on the floor and work to create his own shot.

Hinson also was beaten off the bounce a few times. He’s got to work to give up defensive position less often. Maybe that was part of the rust.

He’s a scorer though, and he played hard for 22 minutes, more than I would have expected from him in his first game back.

And this team needs more scorers. The Rebels have been inconsistent in that regard.

Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler have been the team’s biggest threats, and Memphis kept a handle on both of them for most of the game.

Tyree finished with 24 points. He had seven in the first 2 ½ minutes and 12 in the last 4 ½ which means he had just five points in 33 minutes, most of which Memphis controlled the tempo.

Shuler had a couple of 3-pointers in the second half but finished with just nine points, well below his average.

Memphis built a 16-point lead with just under 12 minutes to play, and the game seemed out of hand with how the Tigers were playing.

That’s when I started work on the first version of a game story, most of which didn’t see the final version as the Rebels put together an impressive comeback.

That comeback got started with an 11-2 run in which end-of-the-bench players Bryce Williams and Antavion Collum were big with a combined six free throws.

Williams still looked out of control at times, and Collum, in his hometown, looked at times like the moment was too big for him, but maybe those two took steps toward helping more.

Ole Miss has some ground to cover to become a sure-thing NCAA team, but the comeback against a No. 16 team on its home floor, a team that is deep and athletic with or without James Wiseman, was a bright spots.

The Memphis folks behind me, the ones who kept ragging Kermit Davis about his suit, were nervous until the very end.

Twitter: @parrishalford

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