The debut of Ole Miss men’s basketball Friday night was one of much intrigue. Both sides looked hesitant before the Rebels ultimately pulled away for the 94-76 win in The Pavilion.
It took a while for the Rebels to rally. Their first-half performance left much to be desired. Turnovers were committed and not forced, the defense was reactionary and the offense continually missed shots.
Terence Davis, one of the most improved players in the SEC between last season and the 2015 season, had a very rough start. He committed four turnovers, took empty trips to the line and missed several consecutive shots before catching fire later in the game.
Early on, it seemed the only player producing for the team was Marcanvis Hymon, who had been largely uninvolved in years past. Head coach Andy Kennedy felt it was time for Hymon, who is one of just three seniors to play, to take this leadership role.
“I had all the confidence I could have,” Hymon said. “Coach did challenge me during the offseason, but I challenged myself. I knew that I could do it. With Sebastian (Saiz) being gone, I knew somebody had to step up at the big spot, so I wanted to be that person.”
Promising freshman and highly rated shooting guard Devontae Shuler made his debut several minutes into the first half, appearing nervous with the ball in his hand. He made several errors playing at speed, but by the end of the first half, he appeared to settle in. Coming out after the half, he seemed a renewed player, and coach Andy Kennedy was duly impressed.
“Devontae Shuler looked like a freshman in the first half,” Kennedy said. “Dribbling off his foot and shooting it before he caught it. In the second half he kind of settled in, and I thought it was a huge spark for us when the game was about 6 or 8 and was still in play and he knocks down a couple big shots and next thing you know, we’re ahead to stay.”
Shuler finished third in scoring for Ole Miss with 14 points as he never missed another shot after blanking on two early looks. He added life to the squad late in the game and made an impression that left his teammates and fans anxious to see where his true ceiling lies.
After his shaky start, Terence Davis hit his stride near the end of the first. He made back-to-back 3s and then went on a hot scoring run immediately at the start of the second. He scored prolifically from all areas and recorded seven rebounds while playing some staunch defense. He ended the night with 21 points and shot 47 percent from the field.
Justas Furmanavicius was a much-needed presence on the interior defense, recording three blocks and contesting plenty of shots. As the defense tightened up, led by Furmanavicius and Bruce Stevens’ solid play, the offense went on an uncontested scoring run and ran away with the game midway through the second half. Once settled, the Rebels looked formidable, a solid foundation upon which Kennedy can build an NCAA Tournament-caliber effort.
Heading into a Monday night matchup against Eastern Kentucky, the team will hope to continue its form as Shuler, Davis and Hymon build upon Friday’s success.