Huge Win for Heath's Young Hogs

OXFORD, Miss. – Folks around most all of the country who happened to notice the Arkansas-Ole Miss score roll obscurely with the other plethora of unrankeds across the bottom of ESPN2 on TV screens Saturday surely didn't give it a second look.

But they didn't see Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes pump his arms and stomp or Arkansas coach Stan Heath kneel while calling offensive sets.

They weren't watching as two exhausted lower-tier Southeastern Conference fighters traded punches, mistakes, runs and bolts of enthusiasm.

They didn't witness Hogs guard Ronnie Brewer's steal and feed to Dontell Jefferson for a slam, 55-44 lead and Ole Miss timeout.

They didn't see Brewer wave his arms in victory-like fashion and his teammates bounce giddily to the Arkansas huddle.

They didn't watch as Heath told them, sternly, to calm down and get ready for another Rebels run.

They didn't see Jonathon  Modica make a nice post-up move from the right baseline for a 65-64 Arkansas lead with 38 seconds left, or Jefferson's aggressive hustle to rebound a Darian Townes miss, earning him two free throws with 2.2 seconds left.

They didn't notice how nervous the Hogs were after Jefferson missed the first.

"In my mind, I believed he would sink both," Townes said. "But when he missed the first one – oh, God! I didn't want to go to overtime."

They didn't watch Jefferson nail the second one for the 66-65 win.

They didn't hear the Ole Miss announcer say, "What a game!" at its conclusion or the 1,000 or so Arkansas fans on hand holler, "Go Hogs!" as they left Tad Smith Coliseum, where Arkansas last won in 1996.

They didn't see a relieved Arkansas coach Stan Heath beam.

Or hear him say almost immediately after: "The monkey's off the back!"

Finally, after 13 consecutive setbacks and almost two years, the Razorbacks won a Southeastern Conference road game.

The Hogs (15-7, 3-6 in SEC) had, of course, dropped all four road games this season, the most disgusting being the dispirited 64-52 setback at South Carolina on Wednesday night.

This was a totally different deal.

Arkansas' defense, which featured lots of man-to-man and trapping, was aggressive, and the Hogs outrebounded the Rebels 32-31. Arkansas shot reasonably well (42.3 percent, 38.5 percent from the 3-point line), and in the second half, played it pretty doggone smart, especially at this not-bitter end.

Townes (19 points) was unstoppable by all but the officials, and Modica (13 points, 5 rebounds and 7, yes, 7, assists) was a key cog while returning to his starting role.

The most important thing, though, is the Hogs, who got off to a hot start, refused to melt when the Rebels brought heat.

Asked the difference in this and at South Carolina, Brewer did not hesitate.

"When they threw that stuff at us, we didn't fold," said Brewer, who led the Hogs with 19 points. "We kept fighting. We came right back with our runs and made shots."

Said Heath: "For us to do that I think showed a lot."

Arkansas built a 19-10 lead, but blundered that into a 28-26 deficit.

But the Hogs kept coming, sculpting a 48-39 lead on an Eric  Ferguson jitterbug drive.

When Ole Miss counter-punched to 48-44, the Hogs jumped back to 55-44.

Then the usual Twilight Zone stuff started happening.

The Rebels ran through the Hogs' half-court defense for a spell and Arkansas turned it over and fouled with regularity as Ole Miss took a 60-59 lead on yet another post move by skinny Londrick Nolen with less than three minutes left.

Next possession, Modica scored on a nice drive, but was called for charging into Marvin Moore.

Minutes after this, Arkansas assistant Rob Flaska emerged from the visitor's locker room. His tie was undone and he was covered in sweat -- and grinning madly.

Until he bumped into an Ole Miss assistant, that is.

"Tough loss for ya," said Flaska as he extended his right hand. "We've had a few of those, so we know how it feels."

Yes they have, and yes they do.

This is much different.

"It feels great," Brewer said.

Heath, looking refreshed after appearing worn down after the South Carolina deal, talked about this being a stepping stone of sorts for his third-year program. His team, he said, learned a lot about winning close games on Saturday.

"This young team really needed something like this to happen," Heath said. "This is something that's very special for us."

Where do the Hogs go from here?

Home, where they'll face Georgia and LSU next week. Then back to the SEC road – at Alabama and at Vanderbilt – that suddenly appears lots less daunting.

After the South Carolina debacle, the team had a serious meeting.

"We talked about having eight winnable games left," Brewer said. "This is a start."

Because it was a finish.

You should've seen it.

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