OXFORD • There’s no more margin for error.
The games count now as Ole Miss basketball opens the regular season tonight at 6 at The Pavilion against Arkansas State.
The Rebels are coming off a 69-43 exhibition win against Mississippi College on Tuesday.
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis played 11 different players early and often as he continues to sort out playing combinations and roles for a team that returns three starters but will rely heavily on newcomers, especially in the post.
“It was good for our team,” Davis said. “You can tell we’re a work in progress. It was great that we got a lot of guys a ton of minutes.”
Davis hopes to add one more player to the mix on Nov. 16. That’s when sophomore power forward Blake Hinson, out right now while receiving treatment for a blood abnormality, is expected to be cleared to play.
Arkansas State has a regular season game under it’s belt. The Red Wolves also held an opponent under 50 points in a 65-49 win over Arkansas-Monticello.
Arkansas State returns one starter, senior guard Marquis Eaton, from a team that went 13-19, 7-11 in Sun Belt Conference play last year.
Senior 6-foot-6 swing man Canberk Kus, of Istanbul, Turkey, led the Red Wolves with 17 points and seven rebounds against UAM.
Ole Miss held MC to 30.4 percent shooting after the Choctaws shot 42.9 percent in the first half.
Defense will be important against the Red Wolves, who are 23-4 under fourth-year coach Mike Balado, a former Louisville assistant, when scoring 65 points before their opponent.
Davis hopes to see more from his own 6-6 swing man, sophomore Luis Rodriguez. He railed by a productive off-season by Rodriguez, but Rodriguez had zero rebounds against MC.
“That’s why I didn’t start him the second half. He’s going to lose his identity. That’s why he was playing good. He was our most active defender, but he got driven against right-handed drivers,” Davis said.
Rodriguez is being pushed by freshman Austin Crowley who was 0 for 3 shooting but had three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 23 minutes.
“(Rodriguez) won’t start if he doesn’t rebound the ball any better than that. He lost his identity (against MC),” Davis said. “That’s who he is. He’s a physical defender.”