When the message came up from some friends that they were getting together at a bar to watch the Ole Miss-Vandy basketball game over the weekend, my initial thought was, “Why?” It was a mixture of two sentiments: 1. I thought the Rebels would probably lose a close one, and 2. I didn’t know basketball was this group’s thing.
When I sat down, we sort of laughed as I explained to a friend (who’s really a good guy) the difference between guards and forwards. Most fans there were relatively knowledgeable, but this certainly wasn’t anything like our football watch parties, where people are dissecting every play.
Early in the game, our table talked about how Pete Boone raised student ticket prices from $2 per game to $5 per game because of “inflation” (of 150 percent annually, apparently) in a time when the fanbase was just coming around to hoops under Rob Evans and Rod Barnes. As you can imagine, students weren’t as interested in paying $100 for a season of basketball, especially given how the program had basically never, ever been good before. Basketball, as most of you know, just really isn’t our thing.
A part of me expected some people to kind of mosey on out around halftime... but then the game happened.
By the end of Breein Tyree’s 31 point night, it’s safe to say the table had bought in to first-year coach Kermit Davis. Everyone who had come to watch, even for a bit, was riveted throughout the Rebels’ 81-71 win in Nashville. Tyree going nuts was a big factor in that, but there was also a renewed sense of hope and optimism. Anything is possible with a new coach with nothing to lose.
The table was talking about Dominik Olejniczak’s presence around the rim when the Rebels switched to the 2-3 zone late in the game to protect Terence Davis (who was in foul trouble all game). We were talking about how encouraging it was to shoot 86 percent from the charity stripe. We were talking about things a group of fans who care talk about. It was great.
I think this is the type of game Kermit Davis really needed — one he had earned via coaching this team to a 10-2 start. He needed to have a chance to get Ole Miss fans to watch a game that mattered and win it, and he did.
Vanderbilt isn’t a great team, and they also had some bad luck on free throws and a few wide open threes late, so refrain from overreacting. That being said, Vandy was favored, and this Ole Miss team wasn’t supposed to be capable of winning games like this heading into a transition year. Winning in Nashville is tough enough because of their weird court.
Ole Miss is also capable, as a team, of playing better than it did Saturday night. Terence Davis, the team’s star, was invisible in the first half. Devonate Shuler was 2-for-10 shooting. The Rebels couldnt do what they wanted schematically on defense with starting big men Blake Hinson and Dom each finshing with four fouls (along with Davis, who had to sit for long stretches).
Here’s the main takeaway: limited depth, rebounding troubles and a propensity for fouling means this team is still going to struggle at times this season, but it’s also capable of beating teams in games that matter. That’s an incredibly encouraging thing at this point in Kermit Davis’ tenure. If he could somehow magically make a trip to the NCAA tournament in Year 1, things could really take off for the program moving forward. I don’t think that’s likely, but I wouldn’t put it past this team after watching them play in Nashville on Saturday.