Ole Miss and Arkansas faced must-win situations in Oxford Saturday - must-win, that is, if either truly wanted to advance to postseason play.
That was especially true for the Rebels, who fell to 12-11 overall and 3-7 in Southeastern Conference play with the 66-65 setback to the Razorbacks. Arkansas now has new life at 15-7 overall and 3-6 in league play.
The Rebels trailed almost the entire game and with 8:59 left, Arkansas had what appeared to be a fairly comfortable lead of 11 points at 55-44. Finally things started to go the Rebels' way as they outscored the Hogs 21-11 from that point on.
But some critical turn of events late led to this Razorback victory. With Ole Miss up 64-63 and in possession of the basketball, the Rebels got it just past halfcourt. Freshman Brandon Patterson tried a cross-court pass to junior Londrick Nolen that touched his hands but was just out of reach with 55 seconds left.
The Hogs, who had lost nine straight games in Oxford, brought the basketball upcourt following the turnover and a jumper in the lane by Jonathon Modica gave the Razorbacks a 65-64 lead with 39 seconds left.
Ole Miss had the basketball with a four-second differential in game clock and shot clock. After working both clocks down while searching for a good shot, sophomore guard Todd Abernethy drove the lane through a bit of traffic, laid the ball up, but it just rolled off with 17 seconds to go.
However the Indiana native was fouled by Charles Thomas, and Abernethy went to the free throw line, making the first but missing the second to tie the game at 65-65.
On its final offensive possession, Arkansas then got the ball inside to 6-foot-10 Darian Townes, who led the Hogs in scoring with 19 points. He missed a short shot, missed a tip, but a foul was called on Rebel senior Marvin Moore with 2 seconds remaining. Dontell Jefferson went to the free throw line, missed the first but made the second, and the Hogs led by a single point at 66-65.
Ole Miss' Chris Rhodes threw the ball the length of the court on the throw in, the ball was caught some 90 feet away by Moore who tried to make a turn toward the basket but ended up basically shooting blindly with his back to the goal. The ball slipped behind the backboard with no chance of going in as time expired.
There was a great differing of opinions on the foul call at the end.
"That had to be called," said winning Hog head coach Stan Heath. "I was surprised that Townes didn't get to shoot the free throws the first time (on the missed shot or the first missed tip). Normally plays are decided by the players, and that had to be called."
"As I told the officials, it's disappointing to be in a game for it to come down to that kind of...you know," Barnes said, searching for the right thing to say following a gut-wrenching loss. "Maybe it's a foul on a shot. Maybe if we push a guy down or something. There's too many people in the paint, too many people jumping after the ball to end the game like that. It's just unfortunate."
Moore said it was indeed a tough deal at the end.
"I was surprised they called it," said the 6-6 Moore. "All I know is that I went up and tried to pull down a rebound. The next thing I know is that I heard a whistle. By me being the size I am, I just try to pursue the ball and get a rebound or try to tip it to one of my teammates."
In the case today, he was called for the foul. And the Rebels lost a close one at home.
But in a lot of regards, it should never have come down to that situation. The Rebels, who trailed 35-32 at halftime, were sluggish at the start of the game and were behind by as much as nine points in the early going before tying things at 19-19 on a layup by senior guard Cavadas Nunnery halfway through the first half. The game was back and forth until halftime. Two Moore free throws cut into a five-point Razorback lead of 35-30 with 37 seconds to go before the break, which accounted for the score at halftime.
The Rebels missed six of 14 free throws in the opening half, a number that would mount as the game moved on. Ole Miss ended the contest 15 of 28, an important figure on the negative side of this one. Arkansas was 17 of 24 at the line.
The Rebels shot a season low percentage-wise from 3-point range, making only 2 of 16 from beyond the arc. The number of made 3s in the game - two - was also a season low for made 3s by the Rebels.
Other than the 3-point misses, Ole Miss was actually good for the contest from the field, shooting 51 percent (24 of 47). Arkansas managed just 42 percent overall (22-52) and 5 of 13 from beyond the 3-point line for 39 percent.
When the score was 55-44 Razorbacks, the Rebels could have folded but didn't. When Nolen scored on a fastbreak layup with 5:09 to go to cut the UA lead to 59-57, the Rebels were well back in the game, as was the home crowd of 5,474.
Following one made free throw by Nolen, a layup by Moore on the next trip downcourt (he led Ole Miss with 22 points, eight rebounds, and four assists) put the Rebels up 60-59 with 2:53 to go.
After a Hog turnover, Nunnery scored on a layup for a 62-59 UM lead with 1:46 left. After a Jefferson basket made it 62-61 with 1:33 to go, Moore made two free throws for a 64-61 UM lead with 1:15 left.
Modica made two free throws with 1:03 to go to cut the UM lead to 64-63. That's when Ole Miss got the ball and Patterson brought it to halfcourt.
Then came the turnover.
"We had a few too many turnovers (15) and definitely missed too many free throws (13)," said Barnes, whose team does not play again until next Saturday night at Alabama. "We gave them too many opportunities to win they game, and they did.
"We just have to keep working. We missed a great opportunity. We were just a few seconds from getting it done but fell short."
Hogs get past Rebs 66-65
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