Shuler reflective as Rebels prep for regular-season finale
Shortly after Devontae Shuler arrived on the Ole Miss campus, then-Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said he believed the freshman guard would one day lead the Southeastern Conference in scoring.
That didn't happen, but Kennedy's high hopes for Shuler have been mostly fulfilled over the course of the past four seasons.
The Irmo, S.C., guard has been a stalwart in the Rebels' backcourt, helping lead Ole Miss to one NCAA Tournament berth and in contention for another. Shuler will play his final home game in an Ole Miss uniform on Saturday when the Rebels entertain Vanderbilt (6 p.m., SEC Network).
"It's definitely going to be an emotional moment," Shuler said. "I'm just proud I made it through these four years and been able to play in every game. I'm going to try to go out with a bang in our next game."
Ole Miss (14-10 overall, 9-8 in the SEC) lost at Vanderbilt (8-14, 3-12) last Saturday in Nashville, 75-70. At the time, the loss felt like a final dagger for Ole Miss' NCAA Tournament hopes. However, a win Tuesday over Kentucky, combined with the weakness of the tournament bubble, has Ole Miss still dreaming of a bid in the 68-team field.
"I just focus on just winning, things that I can do to win," Shuler said. "I know I have my team with me and they're going to make plays for me, but I know I'm the main guy that's going to ice the game. So I just try to focus on that."
As of Friday morning, Ole Miss' NET ranking is a bubbly 56 and ESPN's Joe Lunardi lists the Rebels as one of the "next four out" of the tournament field. A win over Vanderbilt, combined perhaps with two wins in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville, might be enough to land an at-large bid this season.
Shuler enters Saturday's game with 1,292 points, No. 23 on Ole Miss' all-time list. Shuler is just one point behind Marshall Henderson and just two points behind Stefan Moody on that list.
"The only way you have a fun senior night is to win," Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said. "That's of the utmost importance in a really key and critical game for us against Vanderbilt on Saturday."
Vanderbilt played extremely well last weekend in Nashville, shooting almost 60 percent in the second half. Ole Miss, meanwhile, had its share of struggles on defense.
"I think it sticks in the minds of our players," Davis said. "We'll see. Regardless of whether we won or lost, it's a big game for us for seeding."
Ole Miss could be seeded as high as No. 5 in next week's SEC Tournament. Ole Miss can get that seed with a win over Vanderbilt, combined with an LSU win over Missouri and a Florida win over Tennessee. The Rebels could win Saturday and finish as low as sixth or seventh. A loss could potentially drop Ole Miss to the No. 8 seed.