But Arkansas coach John Pelphrey was concerned how his veteran group would handle Ole Miss' talented trio of big men on Tuesday night. There was a good reason.
The Rebels' seniors — Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell — turned in an impressive performance during an 81-72 win in Tad Smith Coliseum. The trio combined to score 36 points and grab 18 rebounds, outworking the Razorbacks in a game that was pivotal to Ole Miss' NCAA Tournament hopes.
"They played extremely hard," Arkansas center Darian Townes said. "They played with a lot of toughness. It was their last game here. They just came out with a lot of heart."
Curtis led the way with a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. Parnell chipped in 8 points and 4 rebounds, while Williams added 5 points and 3 boards.
Curtis' play, especially, was critical in the second half. Whenever the Rebels needed a bucket, they dumped the ball in the post and the senior delivered. If a play wasn't designed for him, he made an impact by hitting the offensive boards.
"Curtis is a double-double guy," Pelphrey said. "That's what he does. If you don't know that, you're not paying attention. He did it again (Tuesday)."
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy believes Curtis' determined play is a product of the end of his career. He called Curtis, who scored 13 points in the second half, his most consistent player.
"I think now he understands that every game is one less that he will have to play and lead this young group," Kennedy said. "I think he is doing a great job."
Red — and Blue — Carpet
The hallway that leads into Tad Smith Coliseum looked like an enormous family reunion before Tuesday's tip-off.
Former Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt and two of his brothers — Danny and Dickey — led the way, meeting and greeting familiar faces. Houston Nutt, of course, is Ole Miss' new coach and Danny holds an athletic department position. Dickey Nutt recently stepped down as Arkansas State basketball coach.
In addition, former Ole Miss basketball coach and Arkansas assistant Rob Evans, visited with longtime friends. That also included a former player, Ole Miss assistant Michael White.
But that's not all. Former Arkansas and Ole Miss defensive coordinator John Thompson spent several minutes speaking with Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive.
Tubby Attends, Too
John Pelphrey and Andy Kennedy weren't the only Division I basketball coaches in the building.
Former Kentucky and current Minnesota coach Tubby Smith attended the game to support his son, Ole Miss guard Brian Smith, on Ole Miss' Senior Night.
Because Minnesota plays at No. 18 Indiana today, Smith caught a flight to Oxford after his team's morning practice.
"I'd find a way to get here, of course, unless we had a game that particular night," Smith said. "But thank goodness (Senior Night) fell on a Tuesday night. It works out good."
The night also marked a reunion between Smith and Pelphrey, whom Smith helped coach as an assistant for former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
Smith said he was glad to see Pelphrey having success in his first year with the Razorbacks.
"He's a class guy, a hard worker," Smith said. "He's paid his dues."
Slive attended Tuesday's game along with Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway. Both are part of the 10-member NCAA Selection Committee that will set the 65-team, NCAA Tournament field in Indianapolis on March 17.
Hathaway said he gets out as often as possible to watch games as a selection committee member. Connecticut's women's team beat Rutgers Monday night and the men's team plays at Providence on Thursday, making a trip to Oxford possible.
Hathaway declined to comment on Arkansas and Ole Miss, but said "there's an awful lot of good teams" that will factor into the NCAA selection committee's decisions on March 16.
Ole Miss' starting lineup was missing a familiar face Tuesday.
Freshman point guard Chris Warren didn't start for the first time this season. He was replaced by Smith, who was in the lineup because it was Senior Night.
Warren was the only Ole Miss player who had started every game. But starting the game on the bench for the first time didn't diminish his impact. Warren scored 10 points.
Morning News sportswriter Alex Abrams contributed to this report.
Rebels' Big Men Lead Way
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