Turns out the University of Arkansas' first SEC road win of the year happened at a place where the Razorbacks have had as tough of a time winning more than any other place in the league.
Darian Townes had a career-high 19 points, Ronnie Brewer 14 points and 7 rebounds and Jonathon "Pookie" Modica 13 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in a rare start as Arkansas downed Ole Miss 66-65 Saturday to end a 9-game losing streak before 5,747 fans at Tad Smith Coliseum.
Modica had four clutch points in the final 90 seconds and fellow junior Dontell Jefferson three during that time - including a free throw with 2.2 seconds that proved to be the game-winner in the opening game of the second half of the SEC's 16-game slate.
"I just thought as a team the guys really rallied with each other, stayed positive with each other and were tougher down the stretch and played with a lot of heart," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "...I thought our team played with a lot of energy, played with a lot of heart, played with a lot of inspiration out there on the court."
Jefferson missed his first free throw, but calmly netted second one to break a 65-65 tie that occurred when Ole Miss guard Todd Abernathy split a pair of charity tosses at the 16.6 mark.
A junior college transfer from Atlanta Metropolitan College, Jefferson got the opportunity to win the game when he crashed the board and was knocked hard to the ground after Townes missed inside with 3.8 seconds left.
"On the first free throw, I wanted the shot to go in but I felt like I had kind of rushed the shot," Jefferson said. "So on the second shot I wanted to take my time, relax and just calm my mind. That's what I did."
The win broke a 13-game SEC road losing streak for the Razorbacks (15-7, 3-7), was just the second win in their last eight games after starting the season 13-1 and completed Arkansas' first season sweep of Ole Miss (12-11, 3-6) since the 1995-96 season.
It was the first SEC road win since the Razorbacks won at Vanderbilt back in Feb. 2003 and goes along with a non-conference road win to give Arkansas its most wins away from home in Heath's three years at the helm.
"We were jumping for joy in the locker room," Heath said. "Let's be honest. It was a monkey on our back and we were feeling like we haven't won on the road, we haven't won here in a long time. We didn't want to go down as a team who couldn't win on the road. It hadn't worked so far, but we knew we could win on the road."
It also came after a frustrating 64-52 loss at South Carolina on Wednesday night and a ton of criticism heaped on the program the last few days.
"I am really proud of our players," Heath said. "We didn't play well in our last game and we made tremendous progress from Wednesday to Saturday. We grew up a lot. It's been a step-by-step process with our program. "
The win didn't come easy with the Rebels - led by reserve Marvin Moore's career-high 22 points - allying from a nine-point first-half deficit and an 11-point second-half to take the lead both times.
It looked like Arkansas might take away the drama when it scored six straight points to storm to a 55-44 lead, a run capped by Jefferson's slam dunk off Ronnie Brewer's steal and outlet pass with exactly nine minutes left in the game.
But the Rebels kept coming and used a 18-4 run to take a 62-59 lead when Cavadas Nunnerly scored with 1:49 left on the clock.
That spree included nine unanswered points as the Razorbacks went scoreless from Townes' bucket with 6:31 left in the game to Jefferson's lay-up with 1:28 remaining.
Jefferson's lay-up on the other end got it back to one-point, but Londrick Nolan hit a pair of free throws with 1:15 left to put Arkansas in a 64-61 disadvantage.
The Razorbacks responded by scoring five of the game's last six points - two free throws by Modica with 1:03 left and his jumper with 30 seconds left sandwiched around an Ole Miss turnover with just under a minute left.
That gave Arkansas, who never trailed by more than three points, a 65-64 lead setting up the late game theatrics by Abernathy and Jefferson.
"We've been close, we've been close, we've been close but I think this is the first time we made some plays when we were down late in the game" Heath added. "We were able to dig down deep and find a way to make the plays."
Heath found a lot of heros to lavish praise on after the game.
"I thought so many guys stepped up in this game," Heath said. "I thought Darian Townes was big on the inside, I thought Jonathon Modica made some big plays down the stretch and Ronnie Brewer again. We are just wearing that guy out. He was our consistent force out there - our leading rebounder and a guy who made a lot of plays for us. "
Townes was 8-of-12 from the field during the game, a rematch of the Razorbacks 69-46 win over Ole Miss in Fayetteville on Jan. 5 in both teams' league opener.
"Our game plan was to go inside and definitely he was our number one option inside," Heath said. "But we also wanted to look at getting the ball to the basket off penetration. We just didn't want to be a 3-point shooting team."
Ole Miss shot 51.1 percent from the field for the game to Arkansas' 42.3, but the Razorbacks hit 70.8 percent of their free throws (17-of-23) while the Rebels missed almost half (15-of-28) of the ones they attempted.
"I was proud of the way we played in the stretch and put ourselves in position to win, but we didn't do enough things right at the end to finish it," Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes said.
Arkansas was also 5-of-13 from 3-point range while Ole Miss was just 2-of-16 from beyond the arc.
"I think in a lot of ways - and I am including myself since I stay as positive as I can - when you go on the road and don ‘t have a lot of success and it seems like things go against you whether it be calls or shots going in and out and not going your way or defensive stops," Heath said, "it just sticks with you. The best way to could do it is just to say it's not going to stay that way and we've got to find a way to change. Whatever we can to change it. I thought we did that tonight."
Arkansas will now try to use two straight home games - Wednesday vs. Georgia and Saturday vs. LSU - to keep its momentum going.
"This was a big confidence booster knowing that we can go to anybody else's place and win," Jefferson said. "Now we just have to continue to go out hard, fight and scramble on defense, keep each other involved and just fight every night."
Arkansas 66, Ole Miss 65
Hawgs Daily Top Stories
Scout On the Road: SeptemberScout takes a look at some of the top prospects we saw in person during the month of September...
Scout FootballWednesday at 2:00 PM
Longhorns Preview Oklahoma StateTexas offensive players discuss the Longhorns' upcoming game at Oklahoma State to kickoff Big 12 Conference play.
Horns DigestMonday at 6:21 PM
Louisiana CB 'Real Close' to a DecisionIt may not be too long before one of the top cornerbacks in Louisiana makes his decision. Four schools are high on his list and you can get the latest here...
Scout FootballMonday at 6:15 AM
JC defensive back talks ISU official visitOver the weekend, Iowa State played host to one of their top 2017 targets in the current recruiting cycle in Paramount, CA three-star JUCO CB Keisean Nixon. This visit for the…
AllCyclonesSunday at 6:34 PM
TCU vs Iowa State primerAfter falling in double-overtime to Arkansas, TCU looks to get back to their winning ways against Iowa State.
Horned Frog Insider09/15/2016