Rebels On The Move After Rough Start

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes knew in the offseason his team would respond well to the loss of leading scorers Justin Reed and Aaron Harper.

He just didn't know if that would be good enough to win.

Six games into the season, Ole Miss was 2-4 with losses to Air Force, Illinois State, Arkansas State and Florida State.

Since then, Ole Miss (9-4) has reeled off seven straight wins including a 65-53 spanking of Memphis and a comeback 63-62 win against 2004 NCAA Tournament participant Virginia Commonwealth on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by beefy forward Tommie Eddie.

"We feel like we're able to compete," Barnes said. "That was the biggest question. I think we've proven that. We still have to go places and win games. The verdict is still out, but we know now we can be competitive."

Ole Miss will see if it can remain competitive now that Southeastern Conference play begins this week for the Rebels at Arkansas (12-1) on Wednesday in Bud Walton Arena.

Barnes subverted some of his coaching tenets in the last two seasons with Harper and Reed as his best players with a limited supporting cast.

Barnes occasionally let defensive lapses by Harper and Reed slide because he couldn't pull them out of the game or he would put some of his less-talented players on the opponent's best because Reed or Harper was in foul trouble and he couldn't afford to lose them.

Now Barnes can substitute freely and he has 11 players averaging between 10 and 27 minutes per game.

Ole Miss has missed out on NCAA play for the last two seasons after winning SEC West titles in 1997, '98 and 2001 and Barnes compared the chemistry of his current team to his successful units from the past.

"This is the kind of team I've been more effective with," Barnes said. "Teams that share the wealth. We got away from that because of personnel. It hurt our overall performance. Now we have guys who have been here and are confident in themselves.

"It can be one through eight who can get double figures."

Transfer Londrick Nolen is leading the Rebels with 12.3 points per game and Eddie is right behind with 12.2 and a team-high 4.6 rebounds per game.

The Rebels are playing their usual brand of stingy defense, allowing just 59.8 points per game (fourth in the SEC) and are tops in rebounding defense (27.5 per game).

Ole Miss' tallest player is 6-foot-9 freshman Jeremy Parnell, but Arkansas coach Stan Heath knows his team has its work cut out on the glass.

Arkansas has occasionally been outrebounded by smaller teams this year and Heath said it's "driving him crazy" that his players don't always box out.

Such lapses will be costly against Ole Miss.

"We have a tendency to just go after the shot without putting a body on people," Heath said. "This is one of those teams, if we don't box out, they can outscrap us and get balls.

"They won that (Virginia Commonwealth) game with offensive rebounds. It is a concern."

Ole Miss has two opponents in common with Arkansas.

Ole Miss beat Troy 81-49 on Dec. 15 (Arkansas won 89-54 at the Paradise Jam on Nov. 21) and Louisiana-Monroe 84-58 on Dec. 18 (Razorbacks won 85-43 against Indians on Friday).

The Rebels have nine seniors and juniors on their roster, but Barnes is still impressed with how they have meshed with his newcomers like Nolen and Arkansas natives Brandon Patterson (Altheimer) and Parnell (Gosnell).

"It surprised me how quickly we've come together and we still have a long ways to go," Barnes said. "We've tried to add guys and they've come in and helped our team. It's a good thing to see. We're still learning about each other. But they're a close-knit group. The chemistry is very good."

Eddie has a sore leg from some stitches he needed after jumping over the scorer's table against VCU and senior Kendrick Fox has been sick, but Barnes said everyone should be ready for Arkansas.

Ole Miss has another Arkansas player with Little Rock Mills product Bam Doyne, a 6-4 sophomore forward.

The Razorbacks have lost 13 of 16 games to Ole Miss dating to 1997 and the Rebels roster has often been stacked with Arkansas natives who enjoyed their best games against their home state university.

Ole Miss doesn't have the stars like Jason Harrison or Keith Carter who used to light up the Razorbacks, but Heath knows the Arkansas Rebels will be extra fired up for this game.

"The kids from Arkansas tend to play their best basketball when they play here," he said.

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