The Ole Miss men’s basketball team defeated Norfolk State 68-55 on Tuesday after a scare from the Spartans in the first half.
The Rebels moved to 2-0 on the young season behind a strong performance from K.J. Buffen, who continued an impressive start to his sophomore season with a career-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
“He’s more confident, you know you all can see it just shooting the ball from 15, 16 feet. He was even hesitant last year in the high post so he just feels better there,” head coach Kermit Davis said. “He’s gotten off to a great start and he’s playing with a ton of confidence.”
Ole Miss looked like they would pull away early after the first media timeout, but the Spartans responded with a 9-0 run to take a 16-11 lead. Devontae Shuler made back-to-back baskets to close the gap to one but the Spartans knocked down a three and converted on two free throws to extend their lead back to six.
Shuler and Breein Tyree also carried the load offensively for Ole Miss in the first half, but Tyree continued to struggle from beyond the arc. He shot 1-6 from three-point range in the first period after going 1-7 from beyond the arc in the first game of the season.
The scoring slowed to a halt in the second half as both teams began to settle into their zone defenses. The Rebels switched into the 1-3-1 zone for the first time this season, forcing a Spartan timeout on a double-team on the first possession in their signature scheme.
The Rebels held Norfolk State at bay the rest of the way behind a remarkable second-half performance by Buffen. The sophomore forward scored 17 points in the period on an extremely efficient 7-9 shooting, finishing with 23 points in a career night for a very promising piece of the Ole Miss core.
“I spent a ton of time just working on my touch around the rim,” Buffen said. “Pregame that’s what I work on most of the time, touch around the rim… I was working on my shot in the offseason so there’s more confidence.”
Tyree finished with 21 points on 8-18 from the field including 2-8 from beyond the arc. He also recorded three boards, three assists, and three steals in the winning effort.
“You know he’s got to be who he is,” Davis said of Tyree. “He’s gotta shoot step-in threes, fastbreak threes, he’s great on the move… he’s settling. He’s got to get to the rim.”
Shuler ended up with 12 points on 50% shooting from the field and from 3-point range. He also led the team in assists and turnovers with five a piece.
Ole Miss will play Western Michigan on Friday in their third of four straight home games to open the season. They will play Seattle University next Tuesday before taking on Memphis in their first road test the following weekend.