Rod Barnes has been saying Ole Miss needed a win for weeks, and then he thought things would improve. Now we'll get to see as the Rebels beat Arkansas 73-70 before an announced crowd of 4,019 at C.M. "Tad" Smith Coliseum, halting a seven-game losing streak that dated back to a 75-65 win over Mississippi State in Oxford on Jan. 14.
The Rebels now meet the Bulldogs again, this time on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Starkville in a game televised on ESPN Classic.
Barnes said after the most recent Rebel victory that he is encouraged by what he called a turnaround in the second half of Wednesday's game with the Razorbacks.
"I saw that improvement as the game went on," said Barnes after his team moved to 14-10 on the season and 4-7 in Southeastern Conference play. "We got stronger as the game went on. I feel much better about where we are now.
"In the early part of this game, we were as bad as you could possibly be," he continued. "We turned it over, and we did some things that were just unbelievable. But after we got to playing a little bit, it got better. I kept on telling our players not to worry, just keep playing. Play hard. Don't worry about turnovers, just play hard. Don't worry about the missed shots, just play hard. If we do that, then we will overcome these things."
Stan Heath's Arkansas team couldn't overcome its woes during the contest. A coach that clearly didn't need a loss like this one said his team needed to play like Ole Miss did.
"I'm disappointed with the loss, and I'm really disappointed with the way we played," said Heath, whose team fell to 16-8 overall and 5-6 in SEC play. "We haven't played this way all year. Give Ole Miss credit. They sped us up and were aggressive. They were a team that had lost seven straight games, and yet they played out there like they were playing for the top part of the race."
Londrick Nolen proved to be the big gun for the Rebels. The lone senior on the squad poured in 20 points and was 8-for-11 from the field including 2-of-2 from 3-point range and 2-for-4 from the free throw line.
The senior from Memphis, Tenn., had eight rebounds, three assists, and a steal in 26 minutes of play off the bench.
"I was just out there fighting so hard for a win," said Nolen, whose two-year career at Ole Miss has had both its good and bad times. "This team needed a win so bad. This team needed me, and I needed the team. I tried to be involved and tried to get them involved. It just feels so good to get a win."
Barnes said it was good to see Nolen really come through for the team.
"I was very impressed with Londrick Nolen tonight," he said. "I've been feeling this was coming for him, and tonight he did what we needed for him to do as a senior and as a leader. I had challenged him a few days ago, and he responded."
Barnes started Dwayne Curtis and Jermey Parnell and played Mike Smith a lot off the bench. He said he wanted to go big against the Hogs.
"We really wanted to be physical in the post," Barnes said. "With Mike, Jermey, and Dwayne, we felt we would be that. Mike has been practicing well. Jermey played well against Arkansas over there, especially early. And Dwayne had a good game for us tonight."
Curtis scored 19 points and had 13 rebounds for a stellar night.
"Getting this win feels great," the sophomore center said. "We didn't want the losing streak to go to eight. I just had to come through for my team. I was as hungry for a win as any. We believe things are coming back together now for us."
Ole Miss fell behind 6-0 early as the problems Barnes alluded to were a hindrance. A 3-pointer by Nolen gave Ole Miss its first lead at 10-8.
Late in the opening half it was the visitors who took a six-point lead at 28-22 on a layup by Eric Ferguson. After the Rebs closed the gap to two points at 35-33, Dontell Jefferson nailed a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give UA a 38-33 halftime advantage.
The Hogs had only nine field goals in the first half to 14 for the Rebels. But Arkansas was 18-of-22 from the free throw line in the first half, and Ole Miss just 2-of-5.
In the second half Ole Miss came out quickly and took control. A layup by Nolen put UM up 43-42 with 15:36 left, and the Rebels never trailed again. The lead was as much as nine points, the last time at 67-58 with 2:03 remaining.
But Arkansas wouldn't go away and got it back down to a single point with 13 seconds to go following a layup by Vincent Hunter. Bam Doyne was fouled on the inbounds play with nine seconds left and sank two free throws.
Jonathon Modica then missed a 3-point attempt for the Hogs with three seconds left that would have tied it. Doyne got the rebound as time expired, and the Rebels' nearly five-week-long losing streak was over.
The free throw shooting ended with Arkansas 29-of-40 and Ole Miss 17-of-28. The Rebs shot 46 percent from the floor to the Hogs' 40 percent, and Ole Miss won the battle of the boards 43 to 37.
"I'm excited for these kids. They've been through a lot," Barnes said. "To come out and play this hard and put it on the line, I'm thankful. At the end of the game we played like a team that hadn't won in a while. We did everything we could possibly do to give this one back. But we made the plays when we needed to make them, and I'm happy with this group."
Rebs get past Hogs 73-70
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