Patrick Beverley has been very upfront about how he was not going to let his team go out without a whimper this season.
The precocious freshman guard – and his teammates – certainly backed up those words on Saturday and amazingly are now just a game out of the lead in a jumbled SEC Western Division.
Beverley poured in 24 points and Sonny Weems 19 as the Razorbacks kept their divisional title and postseason hopes alive by hammering Ole Miss 83-66 Saturday afternoon before a very supportive crowd of 17,781 fans at Bud Walton Arena.
"This one was for Coach Broyles," Arkansas head basketball coach Stan Heath said of UA athletic director Fran Broyles, who announced Saturday that he would retire at the end of the year. "We played with the passion and effort that coach Broyles talks about."
But with all due respect to Broyles, Heath and the Razorbacks (16-10, 5-7) needed the win themselves as they were in danger of going 4-8 in league play.
"We cranked up our defense in the second half and made every shot uncomfortable for Ole Miss," Heath said. "We could have come out today and folded, but we didn't. I am really proud of this team."
Beverley added 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals while Weems chipped in 5 rebounds.
"I tried to take positive and good shots tonight," Beverley said. "I tried not to rush any of my shots today. This is one game and we have to take it one at a time."
Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy left impress with the Razorbacks.
"If they play like they did tonight, they can play with anyone in the country," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said. "They are a very talented group."
Arkansassomehow still has life in a subpar SEC West race where Ole Miss (17-9, 6-6), Alabama (19-7, 6-6) and Mississippi State (15-10, 6-6) now share the lead and not one of the six teams are above . 500 in league play.
"I just kept hearing Coach Broyles talk about heart and passion and all those things, his love for the Razorbacks and those are some of the same words that I used for my team," Heath said. "I don't know if they listened or didn't listen, but I thought they played with a lot of heart and passion today. If we could just bottle it, take it on the road with us and play a few more games, who knows what will happen."
Charles Thomas added 12 points for the Razorbacks while Darian Townes added 12 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals in an inspired 21 minutes of action off the bench and Gary Ervin had 7 points and 8 assists.
Arkansas shot 50 percent from the field, buried 12 of 28 3-point attempts, had 21 assists on its 32 made field goals and led by 25 just past the midway part of the second half.
"We started the game off with some hot shooting and I thought in the second half our defensive intensity just went way up," Heath said. "...We really emphasized the last couple of days of really pushing the ball and attacking a lot sooner, a lot quicker, a lot faster and I thought we saw some of that today and our scoring really picked up to where it should be."
Clarence Sanders had 15 points and Todd Abernathy 12 points for Ole Miss, who came into the game in first place in the West and the only team above .500.
"They just whupped us," Abernathy said. "Everything was falling for them tonight. They shot extremely well and their big guys are great screeners. We just let it get away from us in the second half. We started getting sloppy and turning the ball over. It's definitely humbling to lose like this."
Dwayne Curtis – who had put up three straight double-doubles against Arkansas – fell short on Saturday with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Former Little Rock prep star Bam Doyne had 7 points for Ole Miss, but had seven of his shots blocked on a day when the Razorbacks swatted away 10 shots.
"We're still 6-6 and in a tie for first so we're still very much in control of our own destiny," Kennedy said. "It is a going to be a fight to the finish. It's also going to be a very entertaining SEC Tournament. Florida is on another level, but the seperation is very small from spots two through 12."
Arkansas has four regular season games left – at Auburn on Wednesday night, home games with Tennessee and Mississippi State and then a road game to close things out at Vanderbilt.
"We're just one game out of first," Heath said. "We have to take care of our own business and who knows what we might get accomplished. But we look no further than Auburn on Wednesday night."
The Razorbacks - playing with former Razorbacks and current NBA player Ronnie Brewer in attendance - led just 39-38 opening the second half, but Beverley swished back-to-back long for a 45-38 advantage.
Kenny Williams scored inside for the visitors , but Arkansas reeled off nine unanswered points and charged ahead 54-40 on yet another Beverly 3-pointer with 15:02 showing.
The Rebels got back within 58-48, but the Razorbacks then landed a 13-0 knockout punch.
That spree was capped when Steven Hill ( 4 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks) caught a fast break pass, spun in the land and scored to send Arkansas ahead 69-48 with 9:29 left in the contest.
The lead crested at 25 twice, the last time when Weems drove the basket for a 79-54 lead with 5:22 remaining.
"I thought for us, we panic a little bit," Kennedy said. "Maybe panic is not the appropriate word, but we we rushed. They had us down 10, 12, 14 points, but there was an eternity left in the game. I thought everybody just started hurrying shots, which led to our demise."
Ole Miss, who had edged Arkansas 74-72 back on Jan. 13 in Oxford, shot 40.9 percent from the field.
Arkansas scored 26 points in the first 8:04 of the game, grabbing leads of as much as 8 points – the second time on Beverley's 3-pointer that put his team ahead 24-16 at the 13:19 mark.
But the Razorback offense got sluggish from that point on and Ole Miss took advantage, including an 11-2 capped by Abernathy's jumper that lifted the Rebels ahead 27-26 with 8:57 left in the opening half.
Seven points from Ervin – coming off the bench for the second straight game – in the final 3:18 surged the Razorbacks to a 39-38 lead at the break.
"At halftime Coach (Heath) told us we had our backs against the wall and everybody knew that," Beverley said. "We didn't want to lose another home game so we took care of the ball."
The Razorbacks scored 44 points in the second half while limiting Ole Miss to 28.
Arkansas travels to Auburn Wednesday for 7 p.m. game that will not be televised.
Auburn (14-13, 4-8) is now in fifth in the West after losing 86-79 at Georgia on Saturday to extend its losing skid to four games.
UA freshman star Patrick Beverley celebrates with the students after the Razorbacks routed Ole Miss 83-66 on Saturday afternoon.
Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin guards Ole Miss point guard Todd Abernathy.
Razorback center Steven Hill battles under the board with Ole Miss forward and former Gosnell star Jeremy Parnell.
Arkansas sophomore guard Sean McCurdy looks around Todd Abernathy during Saturday's action.
All pictures provided by Marc F. Henning
Arkansas 83, Ole Miss 66
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