Bolstered by an impressive near double-double by energized freshman forward Vincent Hunter and record-setting free throw shooting, Arkansas' basketball team made sure it wouldn't be the last SEC team to pick up a league win this season.
Hunter, the rail-thin 6-10, 195-pound rookie from Little Rock Fair, had 14 points and 9 rebounds as the Razorbacks ended a seven-game losing streak to Ole Miss with a 86-78 win over the Rebels Saturday afternoon before 17,681 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"Vincent Hunter was huge," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said afterwards. "It was awesome to see five guys in double figures. You don't want a one-man show. Hunter really set the tone (with 8 first-half rebounds). He was energetic and lively. He had a tough first half of the season, but now he is coming on."
Eric Ferguson had 19 points to lead the Razorbacks' scoring-wise while fellow sophomore Jonathon "Pookie" Modica added 17 on a day where the home team made three times as many free throws as field goals – knocking down a school record 48 of the 53 charity tosses they attempted.
Arkansas freshman Ronnie Brewer chipped in 16 points and 6 rebounds and Kendrick Davis 11 as Arkansas (9-6, 1-3) snapped a three-game losing skid with only its second win in 12 games against Ole Miss and did so with a large and loud crowd on hand for the contest.
The crowd included 17 football prospects on hand for official visits who got to see Razorback head coach Houston Nutt and his team awarded the Independence Bowl championship trophy at halftime to a raucous ovation.
"The fans were into the game," Heath said. "I looked up early before the game and there were already a lot of fans here. They are a tremendous boost. It says a lot for people to come out when you are 0-3 in conference. We really appreciate our fans."
Nobody stood out more than Hunter, who finally seems to be rounding back into form after being out for an extended period with a shoulder injury.
"I felt great and we needed somebody to go get the ball and make a difference so that is what I did," Hunter said. "I was pretty fired up as you can tell. I know I can do this. I know I can help it win."
The Rebels finished the day as the only SEC team with no conference wins because of the result of this game and Georgia's 65-57 upset win at Kentucky.
Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes complimented Arkansas on its win, but was not happy with the fact that 33 fouls were called on his team and just 18 on the home team.
" I elft like a rookie coach out there with those officials," Barnes said. "I don't know if it was our guys were fouling too much or playing too physical, but every time I looked out there, Arkansas was shooting free throws. It was out of control.
"My biggest concern is that I felt I didn't get any respect," Barnes added. "It was surprising. I feel like a guy who has been in the league for six years should get more respect from the officials. I just wanted an explanation. I just felt like they were passing me by, When people don't respond, that bothers me."
The Razorbacks, just 62.2 percent free throw shooters coming into the game, connected on a whopping 48-of-53 free throws in the game while Ole Miss was making 13-of-19 from the charity stripe.
The 48 makes were a school-record, besting the 46 made against TCU back in 1955. The school record number of attempts - 65 - came in that same game.
Senior Aaron Harper had a game-high 22 points for Ole Miss (8-6, 0-3) while Justin Johns on had a career-high 20 points and senior Justin Reed added 17 for the visitors.
Harper had 11 straight at one point as his team made a valiant comeback while cutting a 20-point deficit down to as five on Reed's 3-pointer with 22.4 seconds remaining.
Brewer then missed two free throws with 18 seconds left, but swished a third one when Reed was called for a lane violation on the second miss.
Those were the only two misses for Brewer, who was shooting 43.6 percent from the line entering the game, in a contest where he went 10-of-12.
"I've been working on slowing my shot down a bit to make free throws," Brewer said. "It's incredible to get to the line that many times. The coaches challenged me to make my free throws. I've been working on it a lot. We needed to get this win to turn the season around."
Ironically, Arkansas had just 10 free throws in a Wednesday night 81-65 loss at Alabama, who had 35 charity tosses, but got the edge in that department on Saturday.
"Our guys never seem to make it easy," Heath said.
The Razorbacks shot 36.4 percent from the field (16-of-44) and outrebounded Ole Miss 36-28 while the Rebels were connecting on 43.8 percent (28-of-64) of their attempts from the floor.
Arkansas went on an 11-1 run to end the first half to take a 41-27 halftime lead and had pushed that to 58-38 by the time Hunter hit a pair of free throws at the 11:06 mark.
It was 70-50 when Ferguson made a free throw with 5:16 remaining before Harper scored his team's next 13 points - all in 74 seconds - to get it to within 72-63 with 4:02 left.
It was quite the turnaround for Ferguson, who was scoreless and had five turnovers in 14 minutes at Alabama.
"It's easy for 18- and 19-year olds to get their heads down but we came together and got stronger as a group," Heath said. "We put in a different game plan for this game and we executed it well."
The Razorbacks, who have now matched their win total in a 9-19 campaign of a year ago, will return to action Wednesday night when they travel to face Auburn in a 7:05 game.
Arkansas 86, Ole Miss 78
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