NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Different school, but it was the same result for Kermit Davis Saturday night at Memorial Gym as Ole Miss came to Nashville and beat Vanderbilt 81-71 to open SEC play.
It was the fourth straight win for Davis against Vanderbilt, the first three coming during his memorable tenure at Middle Tennessee. It was also the Rebels’ fourth straight win in Memorial Gym.
But this was an Ole Miss team that struggled to just 12-20 during Andy Kennedy’s final season a year ago, and was picked dead last in the SEC preseason rankings this season.
Barring a string of injuries, there’s no way this team finishes that low. In fact, now at 11-2 on the year, the Rebels have put themselves in the early discussion for at-large NCAA Tournament bid.
Give the credit to Davis. In just a few short months he’s established a culture of toughness, and that has led to belief.
The Rebels trailed by six with 13:00 left at Vandy, and still trailed by a point with under 9:00 to go, but a 7-0 run helped them grab control.
Breein Tyree is a special player that the rest of the SEC is going to hate to face. He scored 31 Saturday on 11-16 shooting. And Terrence Davis poured in 11 late, despite being saddled in foul trouble all night.
They faced adversity and smacked it down to win on the road, equaling their total for SEC road wins all last year.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt continues to struggle to find its late game identity with star guard Darius Garland our for the season.
Garland, a likely first round draft pick, willed this young Commodores’ team to an early season road win over a talented USC team. But since his knee injury the Dores have struggled to win on both ends down the stretch.
On Saturday night Vanderbilt struggled to attack the Ole Miss 2-3 zone in the second half. The pressure up top neutralized Saben Lee and Vandy could not make the Rebels pay inside or from behind the arc where they shot just 6-20.
And defensively Vanderbilt failed to get stops win it mattered most.
Quality possessions and defensive stops are the recipe to winning this time of the year, when every game in conference play is expected to be a battle.
On the opening night of SEC play Vanderbilt still looked like a team in progress, searching for a late game answer.
Ole Miss, on the other hand, looks like one of Davis’s teams at Middle Tennessee. Tough, physical and hard to play against.
And just like Davis’s best Middle teams did, the Rebels walked into Memorial Gym and celebrated a victory.