Terence Davis has officially made his star turn.
Not since Terrico White has Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy had a player with the overall ability of Davis. He’s a dynamic scorer, and he can almost single-handedly change a game when he’s on the floor and operating at his full potential.
Saturday was proof enough.
Davis didn’t start against Auburn. He played all of four minutes and totaled zero points on zero shot attempts in the first half. But in the second, with his team down 23, he came alive, finishing with a team-leading 26 points on 11 of 13 from the floor. He also grabbed six rebounds. Ole Miss scored 63 points in the second half and shot 62.5 percent. Davis and junior guard Cullen Neal, who scored 20 in the game, accounted for 41 of those 63 points.
Ole Miss moved to 15-10 (6-6 SEC) on the year with the win, which tied for the greatest comeback in school history.
“I’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” Davis said of being ‘the guy.’ “I dreamed about it. In high school, as a kid, you just think about nights like tonight.”
Davis isn’t a finished product. Not even close. His defensive lapses are too frequent, and he still hasn’t figured out how to deal with his penchant for fouling. And he can settle on the offensive end, too, forcing 3-point attempts despite the pleas of his head coach, who would prefer Davis constantly attack. Davis is nearly unguardable when he’s forcing action at the rim.
“If you noticed, I didn’t start him in the game,” Andy Kennedy said. “The reason being is that I was trying to keep him out of foul trouble. Obviously it didn’t work. I was just trying to change his perspective. He’s been getting into foul trouble. He’s such a dynamic player offensively, especially in the open floor.
“If I can get him to dribble (the ball) like he’s not dribbling a football and I get his shot selection curtailed a little bit … open floor, he’s as good as we’ve got. In the open floor, he’s got the ability to contort his body and make plays. He’s obviously explosive athletically going north and south. We try to get him there as much as possible. In order to do that, you’ve got to defend. You’ve got to defensive rebound, you’ve got to get the ball out in transition and then you’ve got to make good decisions. I thought he was terrific for us in the second half.”
Davis entered play third on the team in scoring. But it’s in his last seven games that he’s shown flashes of the player he can be. He’s scored double-digit points in six of seven, including 18 or more in four.
Davis isn’t really thinking about his steady climb to face of the program. Sebastian Saiz, at least in his estimation, still holds that title. “He’s the anchor,” Davis said, and he even went so far as to peg Saiz as the player Ole Miss looks to when it needs a shot.
But Davis, a sophomore, can deflect all he wants. Sometimes face status arrives for a player without a moment’s notice. White capitalized on his — a dominant run in the NIT in 2009-10 — with early entry into the NBA Draft. Davis isn’t there yet, but he’s no longer the football player-turned-basketball hopeful.
“I really don’t get into none of that,” he said. “I just want to win. I want to compete. I want to play as hard as I can play. I don’t get caught up in that. Couple of games back, I had a little breakout. Coach was telling me teams scout me different. I’m going to be on most teams’ scouting reports as being one of those guys.
“I just look at it as, OK, I’m making plays now.”
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy
On when he felt Ole Miss had the game: “I didn’t know until the bitter end. You’re up six or seven and we’d obviously taken all the momentum and they’re continuing to make shots. We could not get it stopped. Luckily we did a better job against their pressure.” On what he said to the team at halftime: “It’s all overrated. Unless you’re working for Cinemax, you couldn’t have used it anyway. It’s all cliche. We’ve played 25 games now. We know who we are. Let’s play with some passion. I thought we came out of the gate great. Missed a couple of bunnies. We allowed that to snowball, then we got fouls and then we got really passive.”
Ole Miss guard Cullen Neal
On the team at halftime: “We walked into the locker room very disappointed in ourselves. Coaches obviously got on us. We had to fight, fight, fight. Fortunately we were able to grind it out. I think we just came out with a different energy. The goal of ours was to guard as well as we could. We wanted to keep attacking and being aggressive.” On his dad surprising him by attending the game: “It actually surprised me. I didn’t know. This morning (Neal and his parents) met up somewhere and he was there. It was really nice to see him.” On Kennedy’s halftime speech: “A.K. knows how to light a fire into us. He got the job done, obviously.”
OXFORD – (AP) Mississippi guard Terence Davis did not start Saturday's game against Auburn.
But Davis proved he knew how to finish it, scoring 26 second half points, as the Rebels bounced back from a 23-point second half deficit to defeat the Tigers 90-84.
“I was into myself and I came into the game, got into foul trouble,” admitted Davis, who finished 11 of 13 from the field and added six rebounds. “In the second half, I just played strong.”
Ole Miss (15-10, 6-6) also needed 12 consecutive free throws in the final 1:17 to seal it, including 10 by Deandre Burnett, who finished with 18 points. Cullen Neal scored 20 points off the bench and Sebastian Saiz added 10.
“We play segments where we look like a really good basketball team,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “In the second half, we threw caution to the wind and I have players that have faith that they could somehow get it done.”
Ronnie Johnson led Auburn (16-9, 5-7) with 18 points, while Mustapha Heron and Danjel Purifoy added 16 and 12 points, respectively. Heron’s 3-point shot gave Auburn a seemingly insurmountable 52-29 lead with 18:13 left.
“This is the most disappointing loss in my two and a half years at Auburn,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “What else can I tell you? It’s my most disappointing loss here. The difference is at our place, they shot 23 free throws and made 19. Today they shot 23 and made 21 (in the second half).”
The Rebels led 78-71 on a Davis layup with 2:08 left, setting up 12 consecutive free throws, 10 by Burnett and a pair by Justas Furmanavicius, to seal it. The Rebels finished 27 of 31 (87 percent) from the free throw line and 29 of 66 (43 percent) from the field.
Auburn was 33 of 69 (48 percent) from the field, 13 of 30 (43) from 3-point range, including 4 of 6 by Johnson. The Tigers were only 5 of 8 (62 percent) from the free throw line and had 20 turnovers.
Auburn: The Tigers have lost 10 straight in the series, stretching back to 2012. The Tigers had first half runs of 13-0, 12-0 and 10-0 to build a 47-27 halftime lead. Along with 18 points, Johnson added 8 assists and 3 steals.
Ole Miss: The Rebels have won three of the last four starts. Ole Miss is 108 of 128 (84 percent) from the free throw line in the last five games. The only other time the Rebels rallied from a 23-point deficit to win was 2010 against Alabama.
Neal's 20 points off the bench, included the go-ahead 3-point shot, 70-69, with 5:06 remaining. Neal hit 3 shots from 3-point range, added a team-high five assists and finished 7 of 7 from the free throw line.
Auburn hosts No. 17 Florida Tuesday.
Ole Miss hosts LSU on Tuesday.