It was the Rebels versus the Colonels. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was an 85-75 win for the Rebs, and now Andy Kennedy’s men are 2-0 to start the year. Also, the program is as a whole back over .500 in wins and losses for the first time since 1959. That’s neat.
There were 19-point leads, and there were opponents shooting 51 percent from the floor. There were dunks by transfers Bruce Stevens and Markel Crawford, and there were three rebounds and zero blocks by a 7’0 post player.
Ultimately, it was a win, and it was a little ugly.
Trying out the new things.
But it was most likely a good bit of what Andy Kennedy scripted when he put his team on the floor for a 85-75 victory over Eastern Kentucky Baptist University of the Ozarks and Appalachia.
AK mixed up the starting five slightly Monday, giving freshman Devontae Shuler his first start of his young career in place of Terence Davis. Shuler played lights out in game one against ULL in only 16 minutes, and he followed that showing with a 12-point, 5-of-12 shooting performance. Not bad at all.
Coming off the bench, Deandre Burnett led the team in scoring with 17 points, while Davis chipped in 16.
EKU starting five for Ole Miss:
Hymon, Shuler, Tyree, Crawford, Dom.
ULL starting five for Ole Miss:
Hymon, Davis, Tyree, Crawford, Dom.
This is important is because it rewarded Shuler for great play in game one, but it also is a typical AK strategy to try out different mixes of players early on in the season. Kennedy tooled around in the same way with Hendo at times. Sometimes it leads to tighter victories or *gasp* losses in non-conference play. BUT it also means AK's teams gel and play better together later in the season, which is clear given his record.
The other angle here is that Ole Miss currently houses four outstanding guards and only like one and a half viable big men, so it’s important that AK figure out which platoons mesh with one another in the best ways. It also helps if someone gets into foul trouble. If Davis or Burnett or Crawford need to sit for a stretch, who can be on the floor and offer the most effective product. This was a good game for that sort of meddling, and Kennedy’s a prudent coach to pull this stuff out here.
Speaking of record, how about that segue?
When AK took over the disheveled Ole Miss program, it was 92 games UNDER .500 for its history. The last time the program was over .500 was in 1959 — you know, back when they played at Martindale Hall and shorts for the boys were shorter than something you'd see on Hailey Baldwin.
Well, you see, friend, with the win Monday Ole Miss has climbed out of that enormous 92 game hole and is officially back above .500 for the first time in nearly 60 years. It's a testament to Kennedy's 12 seasons in Oxford that he could overcome the enormous odds of a leaking Tad Pad, a sometimes apathetic fanbase, and one of the smallest basketball budgets in the SEC. EXTEND HIS CONTRACT, CHANCELLOR VITTER.
All in a day’s work.
I say the game was never in doubt, because I break down the weird 20-minute halves that the NCAA plays into four 10-minute quarters below.
- First 10: 23-17
- Second 10: 17-17 (40-34)
- Third 10: 19-16 (59-50)
- Fourth 10: 26-25 (85-75)
While the margins are not great in any period, it's clear the Rebels were in control of the general pace of this game, and there would be minor surges here and there from EKU. Late in the game, the Rebels led by 19 and a last minute burst from the Colonels made it the 10 point margin that seems so disappointing.
What we can draw from the first two games is that the Rebels are built very differently from last season — post play is going to be spotty compared to the reliable Sebastian Saiz, who created double-doubles at the flick of a wrist. Guards will have to drive, not only scoring but creating turnovers to get the Rebels into transition scoring situations. They did so a number of times on Monday.
It's another win over an athletically inferior opponent, but it's also another confidence-building win before the Rebels’ season shifts into another gear in the next week.