OXFORD, Miss. — One minute Terence Davis was flying through the air for a vicious dunk, and the next, Devontae Shuler was nailing a clutch 3-pointer before strumming an air guitar while running backward down the court.
As the highlights piled up and the late lead kept growing, the realization started to sink in: This Mississippi team might be a whole lot better than just about anyone anticipated.
Davis had 27 points and 12 rebounds to lead surprising Ole Miss to an 82-67 upset of No. 11 Auburn on Wednesday night. In the aftermath of the win, the Rebels were understandably happy, but didn’t do too much celebrating.
After losing 20 games last season, the Rebels want to prove they’re more than just a feel-good, early-season story.
“I don’t want to settle for mediocre,” Davis said. “I think it’s a signature win, but we’ve still got a ways to go.”
Ole Miss (12-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) continued its run of strong play under first-year coach Kermit Davis after being widely picked to finish at or near the bottom of the league.
Freshman K.J. Buffen added 16 points for the Rebels while Shuler scored 14. Dominik Olejniczak had 11 points and seven rebounds. But Davis was the star, shooting 9 of 15 from the field and making four 3-pointers.
“It’s great for us to see him emerge on a national stage like that,” Kermit Davis said. “High talent level. Boy, he finished some athletic balls at the rim tonight.”
Auburn (11-3, 0-1) trailed 42-29 at halftime, but pulled within 56-54 with nine minutes remaining. The Tigers could get no closer, with Davis, Buffen and Shuler hitting big shots to keep Ole Miss in front.
“We responded to all of their runs,” Kermit Davis said. “That’s what good teams do. We kind of got sideways, it went down to three or four (points), but we kept making plays offensively.”
Auburn was led by Bryce Brown, who took 24 shots — 19 from 3-point range — to score 23 points. He was 8 of 24 overall, making six of his first 10 3-point attempts before missing eight of his final nine.
The Tigers made just eight baskets inside the 3-point line. Auburn was outrebounded 45-37.
“I thought we had an advantage inside — we didn’t,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “And that’s something we’ll have to improve. But I’m not surprised Kermit has got it turned around this quickly, because he’s got a good team.”
Ole Miss went on a 10-0 run midway through the first half to take a 25-14 lead and pushed that advantage to 13 points by halftime. Davis led the Rebels with 17 first-half points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field.
Auburn: The Tigers were playing for the first time after an 11-day layoff and looked rusty in the first half. Auburn played better after the break, and Brown nearly singlehandedly kept them in the game with his 3-point shooting, but he finally went cold and the Tigers couldn’t keep pace.
“No matter what I tried to do in the last 11 days, there’s just no way in practice you can duplicate the physicality and the pace of the game,” Pearl said. “It’s a long layoff and we looked like it, but that’s no excuse. We got outcoached and we got outplayed.”
Ole Miss: It was a huge win for the Rebels, who look like a very competitive SEC team through the conference season’s first week. At 6-foot-4, Davis had a huge game scoring and on the glass and is going to be one of the Rebels’ most important players going forward.
Auburn returns home to face Georgia on Saturday.
Ole Miss travels to face No. 14 Mississippi State on Saturday.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Freshman A.J. Lawson stole the ball and finished with an emphatic dunk with 13 seconds left in overtime to seal South Carolina’s 87-82 upset of No. 14 Mississippi State on Tuesday night.
Maik Kotsar scored a career-high 25 points and had nine rebounds for the Gamecocks (7-7, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), who were the only SEC team with a losing record in nonconference play but now sit atop the league.
Lawson, who came in as the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13 points a game, scored just six points on 3-of-11 shooting. But he may have turned around what appeared to be a lost season for South Carolina with his steal and dunk as the Bulldogs (12-2, 0-1) tried to get a potential game-tying 3.
Kotsar came up big in overtime too, with a mid-range jumper with 42.1 seconds to go that put South Carolina ahead 85-82.
Hassani Gravett added 17 points and Chris Silva had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Aric Holman had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Mississippi State. Nick Weatherspoon scored 17 points, and Lamar Peters had 16 points and seven assists.
Mississippi State trailed 61-54 with just under 12 minutes to go, but climbed back in it with some timely 3s. Both teams had good looks to take the lead late in regulation.
Silva had a rebound just under the basket slip out of his hands with 30 seconds to go in regulation. Peters missed a tough running layup with 5 seconds left, and Gravett’s half-court heave at the buzzer rolled around the rim before falling away.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs shot well from behind the arc as they often have this season, making 11 of 25 attempts. But Mississippi State made just 13 of 23 free throws, while South Carolina shot 13 of 17 from the foul line.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have lost to Stony Brook and Wofford this season, which appeared to be slipping away. But South Carolina overcame a 14-point second-half deficit to beat Florida on a full-court heave and dunk by Silva and followed that up with an overtime thriller to become the surprise 2-0 team in the SEC.
Mississippi State’s ranking was its highest since reaching No. 11 in January 2005. The Bulldogs will likely fall next week, but their streak of consecutive weeks in the poll should reach 13.
It was South Carolina’s first win in three tries this season over a Top 25 team.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs get in-state rival Mississippi at home Saturday.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks host Missouri on Saturday.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — After an awful start, Kentucky coach John Calipari was happy to see his team finish off Texas A&M.
Tyler Herro had 21 points, Ashton Hagans scored a career-high 18 and No. 18 Kentucky overcame a 10-0 deficit before holding off Texas A&M for an 85-74 victory on Tuesday night.
“The whole season is about building,” the coach said. “We won a game. We won a league game. We won our first league game. Good start.”
The Wildcats (11-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) definitely had room for improvement after Saturday’s 77-75 loss at Alabama, disappointment that translated into an early hangover against the Aggies.
Kentucky started badly on both ends with four missed shots, turnovers and defensive breakdowns the Aggies seized upon for a pair of 10-point leads. Kentucky quickly regrouped with a 19-6 run over 5:21. Hagans had a pair of steals during the spurt in which everything clicked.
The Wildcats led 46-34 at the break before having to withstand a second-half comeback by the Aggies (6-7, 0-2), who got within 66-64 with 7:55 left. Immanuel Quickley answered with a 3-pointer and PJ Washington eventually followed with a three-point play for an 11-point cushion that held up.
“We started pretty slow and eventually we got it going a little bit,” said Herro, who was 7 of 14 from the field with three from long range for his second 20-point effort in three games.
“Second half, we played a little bit better. Overall, we have to start games quicker and better.”
Hagans made 10 of 11 free throws along with shooting 4 of 6 as the Wildcats made 15 of 27 (56 percent) after halftime to finish 52 percent overall.
“The Alabama game was tough,” Quickley said, “but we bounced back. It felt extremely good.”
The Aggies meanwhile were left with another game they played close but came up just short.
Jay Jay Chandler and TJ Starks each had 18 points for Texas A&M, which shot above 50 percent for much of the game. The Aggies cooled off late and finished 48 percent.
Kentucky should remain ranked as long as it follows up against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
A hard foul against Hagans led to a first-half scrum resulting in technical fouls for both teams. Christian Mekowulu and John Walker were whistled for the Aggies, while Washington was called for Kentucky.
Hagans made four free throws to make it 33-21.
Texas A&M: The Aggies stayed close with good shooting and even edged Kentucky 29-28 on the glass. They just didn’t have enough answers down the stretch to overtake the Wildcats and were hurt by 19 turnovers leading to 22 points.
“We started giving the ball away and their defense revved up,” coach Billy Kennedy said. “They tried to speed the game up and I feel like that was in their advantage on the defensive end.”
Kentucky: Shaky as the Wildcats initially looked, they settled down and soon led after 10 minutes. Though outshot much of the night by the Aggies, handling the paint 42-32 and outscoring their bench 23-9 helped them gain the edge and a strong bounce-back from Saturday’s loss against the Crimson Tide. Redshirt freshman guard Jemarl Baker had four critical points along with three assists.
“Jemarl Baker went in and was just playing basketball,” Calipari said. “He wasn’t playing for himself, trying to get his (points). If a guy was open, he threw it to him. It changed the whole complexion of the game.”
Texas A&M visits Alabama on Saturday, seeking its third win in the past five meetings.
Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday in search of its fifth consecutive win against the Commodores.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes told Kyle Alexander to stop thinking about scoring and concentrate only on defense and rebounding.
Since the talk last week, the points and rebounds have come in bunches for the 6-foot-11 senior forward.
Alexander scored 14 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds as third-ranked Tennessee routed Missouri 87-63 Tuesday at Mizzou Arena. It was Alexander’s second straight double-double in Southeastern Conference play.
“He’s telling you everything you don’t want to hear, but you need to hear,” Alexander said of his talk with Barnes. “Those are kind of like the father-son meetings, the talks with your dad. They’re beneficial, but you don’t always want to hear what he has to say.”
The Volunteers (13-1, 2-0 SEC) displayed their depth against the Tigers (9-4, 0-1 SEC). Grant Williams entered as the conference’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, but he scored just four before fouling out.
No matter. Jordan Bowden came off the bench and scored 20 points for the second straight game, Jordan Bone added 17 points and Admiral Schofield finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Freshman guard Xavier Pinson scored 14 points and Jordan Geist had 12 first-half points for Missouri. The Tigers were playing for just the second time since Dec. 22, and they began with a flurry. Led by the scoring and passing of Geist, they took a 27-18 lead when Geist made a nifty feed to Kevin Puryear for a dunk with 7:04 left in the first half.
But Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith — two of Missouri’s top three scorers — sat most of the first half with foul trouble, and the Tigers couldn’t sustain their early surge.
“We had good momentum, good energy, but you have guys out there playing extended minutes that aren’t used to playing that many minutes in those situations,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said.
The Volunteers finished the half on a 24-4 spurt to take a 42-31 lead. The advantage grew quickly in the second half as Alexander helped Tennessee hold a 38-29 rebounding edge.
Alexander, who has packed on 30 pounds since arriving at Tennessee as a wispy 195-pound freshman, controlled the paint.
“I used to struggle to get a point up on the board my first two years,” Alexander said. “The fact I scored 14 and I didn’t really even make a post move, that’s crazy.”
Alexander’s defense — he blocked three shots — and rebounding pleased Barnes most.
“He’s making the extra effort to use his length and tip the ball to himself and go get it,” Barnes said. “That’s what he’s doing, and you’ve got to give him all the credit.”
Missouri: The Tigers like to run their offense through Jeremiah Tilmon in the post, but his inability to stay on the floor because of foul trouble makes that a dicey proposition. The 6-foot-10 sophomore forward committed an offensive foul trying to bull through a double team with 17:45 left in the first half and compounded the mistake with an angry reaction that drew a technical foul. He sat the rest of the first half. He committed his third foul 46 seconds into the second half and finished with three points in nine minutes before fouling out.
Tennessee: Junior guard Lamonte Turner missed nine of Tennessee’s first 12 games with a shoulder injury. In his second game back, he scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range against Missouri. He played 29 minutes before fouling out.
“With the addition of Lamonte, that changed the game for them,” Martin said. “He’s just as fast as Bone, and he can shoot the ball and is an aggressive shooter from 3. They were already good, but he takes them to another level.”
Missouri: Visit South Carolina on Saturday.
Tennessee: Tries to stay perfect in the SEC on Saturday at Florida.
College basketball’s non-conference season is finally coming to a close.
To help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason recaps to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.
Who has been the best player in the biggest leagues?
Who is on track to get an NCAA tournament bid?
What have we learned about the conference hierarchy?
What is still left for us to figure out?
We break it all down here.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the SEC.
MIDSEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grant Williams, Tennessee
The reigning SEC Player of the Year now finds himself firmly in the National Player of the Year discussion after a stellar start. Williams is averaging 20.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game on the season as he’s improved nearly every facet of his game.
While the 6-foot-7 junior was mostly an interior force last season, he’s improved his range to become a decent perimeter shooter (41 percent from three on a small sample size). Passing has also been a revelation for Williams, as he’s made the Vols’ offense a lot better with his ability to create for teammates.
Zion Williamson still finds himself as the current NPOY favorite, but Williams is doing everything he can to close the gap.
THE ALL SEC FIRST TEAM
Grant Williams, Tennessee
Admiral Schofield, Tennessee: Schofield has been nearly just as good as Williams in a dominant Tennessee frontcourt. Putting up 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game, Schofield is a matchup nightmare who can make plays all over the floor.
Daniel Gafford, Arkansas: The sophomore big man has become a force on the interior. The NBA Draft prospect is averaging 17.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 66 percent shooting.
Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: On a loaded Kentucky team, Johnson has emerged as the team’s best player as he’s now considered as a potential lottery pick. The freshman guard is averaging 16.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and 43 percent three-point range.
Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State: The senior leader of a dangerous Mississippi State team, Weatherspoon has helped the Bulldogs to a strong start. Weatherspoon is averaging 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
NIT: Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Alabama, Missouri
OTHER/NO POSTSEASON: South Carolina, Texas A&M, Georgia
THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED
1. The SEC race is wide open
Not that this should come as any sort of surprise, but the SEC race is wide open at this point in the season. Defending co-regular season champions Auburn and Tennessee have returned to top-15 form from last season. Kentucky is starting to figure things out while looking like the potential juggernaut many believed they could be.
Mississippi State, LSU and Florida also have the look of very dangerous teams who could be sleepers in the SEC race. And the second tier of the SEC (Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Alabama, and Missouri) are all off to decent starts.
Besides for Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina, seemingly every team is a threat in the league this year.
2. Auburn and Tennessee both have teams capable of repeating as SEC champions
Defending co-SEC champions Auburn and Tennessee have lived up to lofty preseason expectations so far as both teams find themselves ranked in the top 15 in the country.
The Vols and Tigers both sport top 35 offenses and defenses on KenPom and both have passed the all-important eye-test by playing well against elite teams. Tennessee has knocked off Gonzaga while hanging tough with Kansas while Auburn fought hard against Duke and knocked off teams they were supposed to beat like Washington, Xavier and Arizona.
Both veteran teams look like they’re well-positioned to be near the top of the SEC standings once again this season thanks to veteran teams that have won plenty of games.
3. Kentucky is starting to figure things out
After the opening night dominance of Duke over Kentucky in the Champions Classic, there were some serious questions about the Wildcats. More questions returned once Kentucky suffered a surprising loss to Seton Hall.
Over the last several weeks, the Wildcats have answered many of those concerns with notable results.
Kentucky is starting to figure out its rotation while also clamping down more on defense. The transfer of point guard Quade Green helped alleviate some perimeter logjams that have enabled sparkplugs like Ashton Hagans to come in and earn more minutes. That’s provided more stability for Kentucky overall while enhancing their perimeter defense quite a bit. Kentucky also has the luxury of having multiple guys who can take over a game as we’ve seen Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro have big recent outings against quality competition. The frontcourt play of Reid Travis and P.J. Washington remains solid as well.
Kentucky still has to get by Auburn and Tennessee to be the SEC’s premier team, but they’re in as good of a position as they could have hoped for given how embarrassing the season started.
THREE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW
1. Can Auburn and Tennessee reintroduce key pieces into the rotation?
For as good as Auburn and Tennessee have been this season, both programs are still trying to reintroduce double-figure scorers back into their rotations.
Auburn finally gets forward Danjel Purifoy back into the lineup after his suspension for his alleged involvement in the FBI’s college basketball corruption scandal. The Tigers don’t need Purifoy to be great, but if he’s able to provide another lift in the frontcourt, then it adds another scary element to Auburn’s rotation.
Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner has also been sidelined most of this season as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. The SEC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year might be the Vols’ most important perimeter scorer as he would help the backcourt of Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden immensely by adding another playmaker.
It’s not a guarantee that either of these guys make a huge impact. Purifoy hasn’t played for a season and a half and Turner is clearly having issues with a surgically-repaired shoulder that has given him trouble before. But if either of these guys can regain previous form then it makes these two teams even more of a threat for the rest of the season.
2. Do any middle tier teams separate themselves from the pack and make the NCAA tournament?
At the start of 2019 the SEC had five teams ranked in the top 20 on KenPom with a sixth team, LSU, coming in at No. 40. Barring an extremely bad conference season, those teams should all be aiming to make the NCAA tournament.
It’s the second tier of SEC teams that will be intriguing to follow.
Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Missouri are all in the top 75 on KenPom after positive starts to the season. None of those teams are currently guaranteed NCAA tournament entry based on current standing. But all of them are going to have ample opportunities to earn huge wins since so many SEC teams are ranked and sitting in Quadrant 1 territory.
Last season saw the SEC create a basketball resurgence with eight NCAA tournament bids. Some work still needs to be done, but with the Pac-12 as down as it is, there is ample opportunity for the SEC to make another major push for the same number of NCAA tournament bids.
3. Can Mississippi State push the SEC’s elite?
Among the SEC’s four ranked teams, Mississippi State is by far the most unproven of the bunch.
Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee are all coming off of NCAA tournament appearances with deep and talented rosters. And although the Bulldogs have earned some notable non-conference wins over teams like Cincinnati and Clemson, they haven’t competed against elite national competition like the other top SEC teams.
Since the Bulldogs haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2009, they’ll need to earn the trust of everybody by proving themselves against top-flight teams. After years of building, it finally looks like Ben Howland has a veteran team who can take him back to the NCAA tournament. Quinndary Weatherspoon leads a team with five double-figure scorers. The Bulldogs have depth at multiple spots. Aric Holman has been tremendous in spurts. Mississippi State has a top-45 offense and defense. If this program is ever going to make a run for the top of the SEC, this is the time to do it.
1. The SEC gets seven teams in the NCAA tournament (and has a more successful March)
Last year was a banner year for the SEC when they had eight of its membership make the Big Dance. Although the SEC top-to-bottom doesn’t appear to be as strong as last season, it’s looking like the SEC should still have plenty of numbers in March. And more teams should also be poised for a deeper run.
The key will be if the middle-tier teams can pick off the ranked teams during conference play as happened last season. If the top SEC contenders run away with the league, and only lose to each other, then it significantly hurts the SEC’s chances for overall quality wins. But if the league is a bloodbath like last year, with no team clearly separating from the pack, then we should see plenty of SEC teams back in the field.
Either way, the SEC should fare better than only one Sweet 16 team from last season. Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee are all in potential position to earn great seeds and make runs and there are plenty of dangerous second-tier teams who could get hot at the right time.
2. Tennessee captures the SEC title
The SEC race is going to be a close one given how talented the league is at the top. But Tennessee has the difference of having arguably the two best players in the conference in Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield.
The key for Tennessee could come down to guard play. Jordan Bone has been better than last season but he’s still struggling to shoot from the perimeter. Jordan Bowden has actually been slightly worse than last year — particularly shooting the ball from deep. And the SEC’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lamonte Turner, has only played in three games this season as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.
As long as Williams and Schofield keep playing at this level, and Tennessee’s perimeter attack can make some timely plays and shots, then the Vols should be in position to claim another SEC regular season title.
3. Florida makes a big push after a strange start
One of this season’s most perplexing teams has been the Florida Gators. Sitting at 8-4 with tremendous computer numbers thanks to a challenging non-conference schedule, it’s tough to get a read on Florida at this point in the season.
We know that Florida is one of best defensive teams in the country. The Gators turn you over and throw waves of bodies at you thanks to their depth and athleticism. It’s offense that’s the issue. Florida doesn’t have a go-to scorer and nobody on the roster seems like a natural takeover guy.
There are currently an astounding eight players averaging between 10.3 points and 6.6 points per game on this roster right now. If a veteran guard like KeVaughn Allen or Jalen Hudson starts to figure things out as a scorer, then Florida should elevate to another level.
Both Allen and Hudson have averaged at least 14.0 points per game over a full college season before, so it’s certainly possible. I believe that Florida gets one of those guys rolling and becomes a dangerous team heading into March.
Wednesday’s Things to Know: No. 24 Houston stays unbeaten, Louisville escapes, DePaul and Chicago State get testy
Wednesday night in college basketball saw a slow one thanks to finals weeks and winter breaks. Only two ranked teams played and a lot of teams had buy games. But there were still some things to learn on the night — including perhaps the American’s best team early this season.
No. 24 Houston earns impressive comeback win over LSU
Houston stayed unbeaten while extending its home win streak to 22 games as they came back from double digits to knock off LSU for an 82-76 win.
The Cougars moved to 9-0 on the season thanks to a balanced effort as they won despite Corey Davis Jr. (eight points) battling foul trouble. Galen Robinson Jr. paced Houston with 18 points while Armoni Brooks and Cedrick Alley Jr. finished with 13 points each. Houston’s defense also did a great job of limiting LSU star guard Tremont Waters to 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting as he couldn’t get it going.
At this point in the season, you could argue that the Cougars are the best team in the American. Fresh off of last season’s NCAA tournament appearance, Houston is unbeaten with wins over Oregon, on the road at Oklahoma State, and now a comeback win over LSU. None of those three wins are against elite opponents, but they’re the type of wins Houston needed to give itself a more likely chance at an at-large bid.
Now, as long as Houston doesn’t bottom-out in the American, they should be in contention for another NCAA appearance after an impressive start.
Louisville holds off Lipscomb
Although Wednesday didn’t have a lot of ranked teams playing, Louisville received a serious test when they hosted Atlantic Sun favorite Lipscomb. The Cardinals didn’t play their best game, but still managed to pull together a 72-68 win.
Jordan Nwora paced the Cardinals with a game-high 22 points while Dwayne Sutton (14 points, nine rebounds) and Malik Williams (10 points, 12 rebounds) were also productive in the win. While Louisville still needs more quality wins to make the NCAA tournament, this is the type of victory that could come in handy. Lipscomb could be a potentially dangerous mid-major team with solid computer numbers, so this is a decent win for the Cardinals.
Things get heated in Chicago
The end of a DePaul blowout win over Chicago State got interesting on Wednesday night. With the Blue Demons ahead by 40ish points, head coach Dave Leitao exchanged words with Delshon Strickland.
Benches somewhat cleared, both coaches were ejected, and the game ended in somewhat surreal fashion with both teams refusing a postgame handshake.
Things got a little heated after DePaul coach Dave Leitao & Chicago State guard Delshon Strickland exchange words.