After blowing a 10-point second-half lead to No. 5 Baylor Saturday, the opportunities for quality wins are dwindling for the Rebels. This was Ole Miss’ big chance at a season-defining win. In front of a packed, raucous crowd at The Pavilion– a building still in search of a signature win– the Rebels simply could not seal the game, succumbing to the Bears 78-75.
From the tip, Ole Miss played with the passion and grit of a team ready to upset a national powerhouse. Sebastian Saiz initiated the game with eight quick points, opening up a lead that the Rebels would hold until the 30th minute of the game. Trading blows back and forth for the final 10 minutes, Baylor and Ole Miss looked like two seasoned boxers, both trying to outlast the other. Ultimately turnovers, foul trouble and a lack of defensive rebounding by the Rebels offered Baylor the chance for victory, and it took advantage of it.
Despite the -10 in rebounding, the crunch time turnovers, and Saiz’s and Terence Davis’ foul trouble, there were far more positive takeaways than negative. With two more monumentally important games on this week’s ledger, here are some takeaways from Saturday’s contest with Baylor.
Ole Miss has a point guard. If there were any questions about who the Rebels’ floor general was, Saturday proved otherwise. On national television, in arguably the brightest spotlight of the season, 6-foot-2-inch freshman point guard Breein Tyree seized the reins of the Ole Miss offense. He scored an efficient 20 points on just nine shots, pulled down four rebounds and turned the ball over just once in 29 minutes of action.
Greater than Tyree’s numbers, though, was his sobering presence as a ball handler. When it was time to push, he pushed in transition. When the game got too fast, he slowed things down and set the offense. And in addition to his point guard play, Tyree played with the swagger and flair of a seasoned veteran, crossing up his defender multiple times and hitting clutch step backs with ease. Coach Andy Kennedy has drawn comparisons from Tyree to OKC’s Russell Westbrook, and Saturday’s game gave a glimpse of Tyree’s next-level potential.
In stark contrast to Tyree’s play was the play of leading scorer Deandre Burnett. The transfer from Miami scored just four points on 1-10 shooting in 30 minutes of action. Burnett is a ball-dominant guard. He isn’t a true point guard, rather more of a hybrid, undersized shooting guard. The elevated play of Tyree obviously affected Burnett’s play, but it doesn’t mean that the Ole Miss backcourt is necessarily a zero sum game. Coach Andy Kennedy will merely have to adjust his offense to cater to Burnett as an off ball threat, which is more of his natural position so the emergence of Tyree could actually benefit Burnett.
If the Rebels stay engaged, the 1-3-1 defense is especially effective. Ole Miss held Baylor to just 35 first half points due largely in part to the havoc caused by Kennedy’s 1-3-1 trap. It forced 17 turnovers and regularly pressured the Bears into late shot clock situations. The success of this defense is predicated on how well the defenders recover to the corners, because it can be susceptible to leaving shooters open in the corner for three. Mississippi State’s shoots a barrage of threes and at a relatively high rate (37 percent). If Ole Miss can limit those opportunities, Tuesday night’s contest could swing in its favor.
Lastly, Saturday proved that Ole Miss has the potential to transform its narrative as a football-dominant school. Ole Miss basketball boasts The Pavilion– one of the finest arenas in the South– a seasoned coach in Kennedy and a solid class of recruits coming in the 2017 class. Kennedy’s class includes Devonte Shuler and Jamarko Pickett, both four-star recruits and firmly in the Rivals top 150. In addition to Kennedy’s recruits, the atmosphere of Ole Miss basketball is changing. The student section has been filled to capacity for many of the Rebels’ home games, and Saturday’s atmosphere was similar to the likes of Rupp Arena or Cameron Indoor. If Ole Miss can capitalize on this momentum and translate some off-court success into victories, there are certainly pieces with which to build a program in Oxford.
Although there were so many positives from the loss, sugar-coating Ole Miss’ situation isn’t beneficial. A win Saturday would have given the Rebels a signature victory that they desperately need for a rather barren tournament résumé. After two straight losses, Tuesday night’s rivalry matchup with Mississippi State is proving to be a must-win.
Tipoff between the Rebels and Bulldogs is set for 6 p.m.