The way Kennedy saw it, his lineup needed more athleticism and more energy. In came Breein Tyree and Terence Davis, as well as Marcanvis Hymon alongside front-court stalwart Sebastian Saiz. The result was an 85-77 win over Memphis.
Kennedy was hoping for a repeat performance at Virginia Tech Sunday. However, the Rebels suffered their third loss of the season, 80-75. Tyree and Hymon scored a combined two points on 1 of 7 from the floor, though Tyree had three assists to no turnovers and Hymon had five rebounds. Davis recorded the first double-double of his career on 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Basically, Kennedy’s lineup is still a bit of a work in progress, and there are sure to be additional growing pains for a Rebel team with NCAA Tournament aspirations as players settle into their roles and rotations. Kennedy is approaching evaluations day-to-day. Ole Miss is 6-3 overall and will host Murray State tonight at 7 p.m. CT.
“We’ll continue to evaluate it,” he said. “Obviously when you start as flat as we did against Middle, we needed to take some steps to change, to make sure. One of the reasons we put Breein there is because he’s a good on-ball defender. He’s good versus pressure. He’s got an energetic approach, which I thought we needed going into Memphis. We also put Terence in because he’s our best perimeter athlete, and we needed to be more athletic on the perimeter, most especially when you have (Deandre Burnett) or Cullen (Neal), which athleticism isn’t their No. 1 strength. So we’ve got to be smart in how we manage our lineups.
“I thought we responded against Memphis, and I thought we started off well against Virginia Tech. Terence had his first career double-double. Breein, although statistically was 0-4, he had three assists and did not turn the ball over in an ACC venue against a pretty good ACC point guard. I thought those guys did their jobs. It’s a day-to-day approach, and a lot of it will have to do with scouting and who’s doing what, when and how. But I think the moves have been beneficial for us.”
Kennedy is excited about the progress of Tyree, a true freshman and the only true point guard Kennedy has on his roster. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Tyree has been on the road to recovery for months now after suffering an ACL tear. He's appeared in seven games, averaging 2.4 points in 9.9 minutes of action — numbers sure to spike in the weeks ahead.
“He’s getting better every day,” Kennedy said. “The only thing I still see lacking other than just being a freshman (is) not having the luxury of going through a typical preseason of a freshman — coming in in the summer, getting your body right and then going into fall with understanding and pace of play so once you get into real practice and game prep. He didn’t get any of that. Other than just the typical transition period that he missed because of the injury, I think he’s really close. I don’t know if he’s going to get that explosive, left-leg attacking at the rim for another few weeks, but I see it coming back slowly but surely. I would say he’s probably around 80 percent of where he’s going to be. Once he gets that explosion back, you guys are going to see what got us excited us in recruiting him. He’s a guy that can take it and finish at the rim. Right now he doesn’t have that as a part of his game, so he’s having to do things he’s never had to do before because he doesn’t have his No. 1 option.”
Murray State will kick off a four-game homestand for Ole Miss. Bradley and South Alabama follow the Racers prior to the Rebels breaking for Christmas. SEC play tips off in earnest against No. 6 Kentucky Dec. 29.
Kennedy, though, is trying to keep his team focused on today. Murray State is 5-5 after a 103-65 win over Bethel Monday night. The Racers are led by senior guard Jonathan Stark, a Tulane transfer, who is averaging 20.6 points per game and shooting 44.9 percent from 3.
“They’re a team, again, that we’re going to have to play well,” Kennedy said. “With our next three games — Murray State, Bradley and South Alabama, three teams that are going to compete well in their leagues — our non-conference schedule is going to do its job. Now we have to do ours by taking care of business and protecting home floor.
“I thought our fight was good (at Virginia Tech). Virginia Tech’s got a good basketball team. As a program, the last time we won a road game against an ACC opponent was 2008 when we went in and beat Virginia Tech in the NIT. Do you know the last time Ole Miss won an ACC road game in the regular season? That would be never. We were trying to go in against a team that I really believe is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team and we knew we were going to have to play really well in order to win. I thought we came out of the gate good. They made a run on us. Got out in transition, they’re really skilled. I thought we responded, and I thought we battled. We just didn’t execute very well. It was a focus thing, it wasn’t a toughness deal. We didn’t execute great down the stretch. When the SEC leading scorer has his worst night as a Rebel, to the point where, honestly, I didn’t even have on the floor at the end of the game, it’s going to make for a challenge. But I was really pleased with the way our guys battled, especially Sebas, who continues to develop into that all-league-caliber player that we need him to be. Overall, I was pleased in our approach to the game. We’ve just got to clean up some execution, and we’ve got to continue to improve.”
Freshman forward Nate Morris made his Ole Miss debut in Blacksburg, though he only played two minutes. A true five, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound Morris had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, but with fellow freshman Karlis Silins out with a knee issue, Morris was thrust into action.
As of Wednesday, Kennedy said Ole Miss was in the process of exploring Silins’ injury further to determine severity and the path forward. Silins hurt his knee in practice and missed “a couple of days,” according to Kennedy, and hasn’t come back right.
“There became an opportunity for Nate,” Kennedy said. “He’s done the things necessary to rejoin the team. He basically missed the entire first semester. He’s just got to get back in shape. He hasn't had a lot of extensive practice time based on his situation. He’s a guy who’s got great instincts, he can block shots, he’s a rim-protector. I’ve used the comparison of Reginald Buckner at the same stage (in his development) in that he’s long, he’s athletic and he has good timing from a shot-blocking standpoint. That’s the No. 1 thing that attracted us to him in the recruiting process. We haven’t been able to utilize that because he hasn’t been part of our rotation, but he’s a guy that once he gets back in shape and gets comfortable in all the things we’re trying to do schematically, I think he can certainly help us.”