If Ole Miss was going to find a way to start 2-0 in the SEC, they needed a big offensive night from someone, great team defense, and solid play around the basket, both in rebounding and scoring in close. According to the math, they went check, check, and check on their way to an 82-67 win over Auburn.
The Rebels used an explosive first half on offense and outstanding effort on defense to jump out to a 13-point lead, which they, despite some quality efforts to do so, never relinquished in the second half. Terence Davis of HE COULD PLAY TWO SPORTS, BOB fame, dropped a double-double on Auburn, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, as he filled the void created by Breein Tyree’s rather off-night shooting (1-10 from the floor).
The Tigers, who came in to Wednesday night with the eighth-best adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom, clanked their way to 33 percent shooting (22-67 if you’re scoring at home) thanks to great stretches of defense from Ole Miss, who also caused 10 first-half turnovers. To be fair, Auburn did hit 14 three-pointers because OF COURSE, which gave them a plus-21 margin over Ole Miss and kept the game closer than it should’ve been. And, as long as we’re being fair, the Tigers did lack some continuity from last season, as they were without a familiar assistant coach who was arrested and indicted by the FBI for real cheating of the felony variety and not CHEATIN’ BEARS CHEATIN’.
Despite a lack of depth in the front court, Ole Miss managed to win the rebound battle 45-37, but even more impressively, outscored Auburn 30-12 in the paint, mostly through guards getting to the basket. I know this is controversial, but I very much enjoyed that.
However, because this is Ole Miss, nothing comes easy. The Rebels had to play their way out of being overtaken by several second-half Auburn runs that could’ve been mistaken as the work of #AuburnJesus. The Tigers cut the halftime lead to a single possession four times in the second half before Ole Miss was able to close the door around the four-minute mark with a Devontae Shuler three-pointer that pushed the lead to 12. Though, even then, the door needed double bolting.
Given where Ole Miss was at the end of last season, it was a tremendous win for the Rebels, and not just for their NCAA Tournament hopes. All signs point to a program in transition gaining stability and being competitive in what should be a rebuilding year, which is something maybe two people outside of those related to Kermit Davis thought would happen.
Whether or not Ole Miss does enough over the next two months to get a shot at the NCAA Tournament, they’re a team that plays hard, is fun to watch, and allows the mind to hope. There’s now excitement around one of the major Ole Miss sports, which is very strange and confusing, but WE NEED IT IN OUR VEINS.