MEN'S BASKETBALL: Rebels Make Hogs Work

FAYETTEVILLE — Sure, this victory wasn't the prettiest.

The Arkansas Razorbacks blew an early 14-point lead Saturday. They missed 13 of their 32 free throws. They bricked 13 shots from behind the 3-point line — in the first half. They basically missed out on a chance to post a third straight blowout.

But they survived. Arkansas finished its three-game homestand with a 75-69 win over Ole Miss, the type of close-game outcome that eluded the Razorbacks all last season.

"We kept our composure," said Arkansas senior Sonny Weems, who scored a team-high 22 points. "We didn't try to force anything, and we didn't panic. I think that's what great teams do. Other teams will make their runs, you just can't panic.

"We kind of panicked in the past and tried to make it up too fast."

That wasn't the case Saturday. The Razorbacks set off five Hog calls from the sellout crowd of 19,916 in Bud Walton Arena before the 12-minute mark of the first half. And they led for all but 19 seconds.

The Rebels, however, refused to let Arkansas just breeze to its fourth straight victory.

Ole Miss freshman guard Chris Warren scored 11 points in a 97-second span, cutting Arkansas' lead to 70-67 with 45 seconds remaining. But Weems immediately ensured the Razorbacks (17-5, 6-2) would remain a half-game behind Mississippi State in the Western Division standings. His drive and hard-fought layup put Arkansas up 72-67 with 20 seconds left, erasing memories of his 1-for-7, first-half effort from 3-point range.

The Ole Miss rally didn't surprise Arkansas senior Darian Townes, who set the pick that sprung Weems free for the layup.

"We knew this would be a dogfight," Townes said.

Didn't look like one early. For eight minutes, Arkansas-Ole Miss, looked more like a pitbull taking on a chihuahua, actually.

The Rebels (16-5, 3-5) missed 10 of their first 11 shots, and the Razorbacks hustled all over the court. Stefan Welsh sprawled out of bounds to tip the ball to a teammate, Michael Washington drew a charge and Patrick Beverley wrestled rebounds away from larger Rebels.

Gary Ervin's open-court dunk capped Arkansas' 16-2 game-opening spurt.

"I was praying for a power surge, hoping for a blackout," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "I didn't like the look in our guys' eyes. We came out very timid."

Soon, though, Arkansas became the more tentative team. As the Rebels slowly cut into the Razorback lead, as Arkansas continued to fire up low-percentage shots, first-year coach John Pelphrey tried to remain calm. He couldn't.

Finally, he bubbled over and screamed at his players, his veins popping as his team's defensive effort decreased.

"Stop being soft!" he yelled.

Weems said the Hogs didn't heed Pelphrey's message fully until the second half.

A 3-pointer by the 6-foot-6 West Memphis native fueled a critical 10-0 spurt that gave Arkansas a 55-43 lead with 9:55 left. And Arkansas withstood several late pushes, including Warren's 97-second barrage, from a pesky Ole Miss squad.

Throughout those last 20 minutes, the Hogs impressed Pelphrey. They showed the kind of composure he wanted to see on Jan. 12 at Georgia and on Jan. 16 against South Carolina. They didn't waver from their new-found identity, recovering to hold Ole Miss to its second-lowest point total this season.

And they gave Razorback fans hope that they can dream big going into this week's tests at Tennessee and Mississippi State.

"I was on them," Pelphrey said. "They could've easily started worrying about me as opposed to the next play. And I worry about this basketball team sometimes in those scenarios, being too loose, not getting to the right spots, just being lackadaisical.

"This thing could've easily gotten away from us."

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