The Ole Miss basketball team entered last week 1-7 near the bottom of the SEC standings with no sense of cohesion or confidence, but two impressive wins over South Carolina and Florida on Wednesday and Saturday showed a team with a new swagger.
The Rebels handled the first two games of the three-contest homestand perfectly, beating the Gamecocks 84-70 and the Gators 68-51 in the Pavillion.
Suddenly, the team that looked dead in the water seven days ago is playing like the NCAA tournament team it was supposed to be all season, and they might be the trickiest team in the SEC.
“We didn’t look like a one-and-whatever team. We didn’t feel like a 2-7 team, but we were one,” head coach Kermit Davis said after the game Saturday. “I think our guys knew we have a good team. Our team knows that when we put everything together. That’s who we are.”
Breein Tyree and Devontae Shuler are scoring in bunches, which shouldn’t come as a surprise for either, but the Rebels simply haven’t been able to put two impactful performances from the veteran backcourt in the same game.
The Rebels have been dominant in the past two games on the backs of Tyree scoring 38 and 23 and the Shuler running the offense with efficiency, with 21 combined points and nine combined assists to show.
It’s not out of the ordinary to see either guard go off in any given game, but Tyree and Shuler were never the reason the Rebels were losing and, in turn, are only a part of why they’re winning. The key to the Rebels’ success has always been the supporting cast, which has been stellar in the last two games.
K.J. Buffen had his best game of the season against Florida. The sophomore had 14 points and nine rebounds, but his presence was felt beyond the stat sheet. Buffen was an active Swiss army knife on both ends of the floor, disrupting the Gator offense and driving to the bucket to score.
“It’s the best he’s played. He had four assists and no turnovers,” Davis said. “He got some offensive rebounds at critical times. We ran some set things for him, and he finished around the goal. I just thought he and Khadim (Sy) and Blake (Hinson), even Dude (Antavion Collum), I thought they just played and tried to attack.”
Sy is still playing well while Collum, Bryce Williams and Austin Crowley are doing positive things on the court.
Hinson is finally coming back to what he looked like last season, and he’s playing his best basketball of the year by far. You could see the confidence when he caught a cross-court lob from Shuler and flushed it in the second half to help put the game away against Florida.
This team has not made plays like that all season. In the last week, they’ve played loose, built leads and maintained them. They’ve been relaxed but not careless, showing the ability to win in different situations down the stretch and keep the foot on the pedal.
“I’m so proud of our team down the stretch. The lead was at 10 or 12, and we just kept getting stop after stop,” Davis said after the game against Florida.
Complete games from players not named Tyree or Shuler allow the Rebels to assert dominance, but the Rebels need that from every player in the rotation in all eight remaining regular season games and the SEC Tournament in Nashville to stand a chance.
The Rebels have another home game against Reggie Perry and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Tuesday before heading to Lexington to play Kentucky over the weekend. It might be too little, too late for Ole Miss basketball, but the Rebels could put together a very respectable run at the end of this season if they keep playing like this.