PARRISH ALFORD: Ole Miss frontcourt continues to evolve

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Junior guard Trevor Gaskins was impressed with his young Ole Miss teammate Monday night, but offered his enthusiasm with this bit of caution:
“He needs to do that consistently.”
Indeed, freshman center Demarco Cox, and others along the front line of the Ole Miss basketball team, need to raise their level of production as SEC play comes into view.
The post position was targeted as a question mark on this team last May when Murphy Holloway, an energetic fan favorite, announced he was leaving after two seasons for personal reasons.
Holloway was the SEC’s fifth-leading rebounder last season at 7.6 a game.
That left the Rebels with Reggie Buckner and Terrance Henry down low. Buckner established himself as one of the league’s best shot blockers last season as a freshman. Henry is a guy with perimeter skills who’s had to adapt his game to spend more time inside.
This evolving frontcourt has used the last two games, wins against Arkansas-Little Rock and Mississippi Valley State, to climb into 11th place in rebounding among SEC teams.
The level of competition will increase soon, beginning Saturday at 3 p.m. against East Tennessee State.
Cox, a beefy freshman from Yazoo City, was pegged as a guy who could make a quick impact.
His game against Valley could be an important step in the right direction, provided he can follow Gaskins’ advice.
Cox stands 6-foot-8 and arrived on campus at at 323 pounds. He’s listed at 295, and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy would like to see him drop another 15 pounds.
“He could get more bounce in his step and get some of those second and third rebounds he’s missing,” Kennedy said.
More than bounce, the bigger issue for Cox has been controlling his body and keeping it off little people who drive into the lane. Before Monday, he was prone to foul trouble, something that’s been a point of discussion between player and coach.
Monday night, Cox played 19 minutes, a season-high. He was called for only one foul, and that didn’t come until 5 minutes, 28 seconds remained in the game.
Without the fouls, his time on the floor was productive. Cox was 5 for 6 from the floor, finishing close-range shots he was missing a few games ago, for 10 points. He also had six rebounds, three of them on the offensive end.
As the Rebels have played two average frontcourts the last two games, several players have played big. Buckner, less known for offense than for his blocked shots, had a double-double in Little Rock with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Monday, he was plagued by foul trouble but managed seven points and three rebounds in only 14 minutes.
Junior college transfer Steadman Short showed an offensive pulse, getting 8 points on 3 for 4 shooting. He was averaging 1.9 points going into the game.
Perhaps consistency will emerge from someone in that group.
Ole Miss has a talented collection of guards, but shots aren’t going to fall every night, and for the backcourt to be all it can be, opponents need to realize a threat from down under.
If it’s Cox that’s all the better. He has the makeup to back down a defender, and the moves to finish when he gets in place. The Rebels haven’t had a true back-to-the-basket scoring option, a true finisher down low, since Dwayne Curtis four years ago.
A little more consistency from Cox and friends would lead to greater consistency on the whole, a good thing for a program seeking its first NCAA bid since 2001.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.