OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Sunday was the first glimpse Andy Kennedy got of his 2017-18 team in live game action, and Ole Miss rolled over North Alabama 94-53 in an exhibition contest.
Freshman guard Devontae Shuler led the team in scoring with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He was 4-of-9 from three-point range. Kennedy has called Shuler the best on-ball defender he has ever coached, which is high praise for a guy who has yet to play a regular-season collegiate game. On Sunday, Shuler’s ability to put the ball in the rim was on display.
“He can snap that thing off, man,” Kennedy said. “He is electric. He is as talented as we have ever signed here.”
Shuler is in a crowded backcourt with the likes of Memphis transfer Markel Crawford, Deandre Burnett, Terence Davis and Breein Tyree. Davis and Burnett had 13 and 11, respectively. Tyree had six assists. The Rebels went 9-of-27 from beyond the three-point line.
“My goal is to stay focused and remain confident,” Shuler said. “Coach putting me in the game already means a lot to me."
Ole Miss played fast at times, sometimes too fast. The 18 points in transition and 21 assists on 36 made shots was good. The 19 turnovers were not. But a lot of that stems from a bunch of different players getting minutes - 14 to be exact - and some guys playing together for the first time ever.
“I just try to get all of these guys minutes,” Kennedy said. “We are trying to figure out our rotation and get guys in there. Next Friday will be a lot different.”
Perhaps the area Kennedy will learn the most about early on in the season is in the post. Ole Miss will benefit from the size of Dominik Olejniczak at seven-feet tall, but also have a nice blend of quickness down there with Marcanvis Hymon, Justas Furmanavicius and newcomer Bruce Stevens.
“We should be pretty good,” Hymon said. “We are all kind of quick. Last year, Sebastian (Saiz) took up so much space and helped tremendously. Me and Justas are kind of undersized, but we use our quickness. We are vets and have been in that position.”
If there was a position where the Rebels lacked for scoring a year ago, it was the four spot. Hymon acknowledged this and thinks Stevens’ ability to shoot the basketball will help out with that as well as create space as teams have to extend towards him defensively.
“We struggled there last year, specifically me,” Hymon said. “We struggled to stretch the floor without Sebastian (Saiz) on the floor. (Stevens) can stretch the floor and make those shots.”
Ole Miss held a 54-45 advantage on the glass, but let a few slip away early, something Kennedy noted they needed to improve upon as well as the turnovers. But he seemed to like what he has in the post. Hymon led the way with 10 boards and Stevens snagged eight.
Kennedy tried to stay pretty vanilla in terms of a game plan, but he did flash a full-court press a couple of times. Ole Miss forced 21 North Alabama turnovers. With the quickness this team has at guard, that could become a staple for them on the defensive end.
“We already have the scoring,” Shuler said. “If we play defense like that, it will lead to more scoring and help out a lot.”
His coach agreed.
“We can make people play chaotically offensively because we are so athletic on the perimeter,” Kennedy said. “Having Dom back there and KG (Hymon) can block some shots as well as Bruce being quick with his feet, if we can funnel guys in there and if we do get beat on the perimeter, that allows us to get out in transition.
This was the team’s final tune-up before the regular season begins against Louisiana Friday night at 7 p.m. The men’s team will play game two of a doubleheader as the women host Northwestern State to begin the evening at The Pavilion (5 p.m.).