Courtesy Arkansas athletics
Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford didn't need to carry his team

Basketball: Arkansas handles bad Ole Miss team after sleepy start

Eric Bolin

It was a good-news, bad-news night for the Arkansas basketball. Mostly good news, but it would be crazy to ignore the bad.

First the good. Arkansas beat Ole Miss, 75-64. It’s the Razorbacks’ third straight win and gives them a winning record in SEC play for the first time this season. Barring something absolutely wild, Arkansas will stay as an “in” most national prognosticators’ NCAA Tournament projections.

The bad news, though, lingers. Ole Miss was terrible for half the game Tuesday night. Another quarter the Rebels were simply bad. The final quarter, they were average or so. And with all that, Arkansas won – against the second-to-last-place team in the SEC – by 11 points.

Doesn’t exactly bode well for the future (more on that at the bottom of the page). The game was single digits until the final four minutes or so, when Ole Miss had clearly punted.

At the under-4 timeout in the first half, Arkansas led 24-19. Low-scoring, but the score didn’t reflect the absolute affront to basketball the teams displayed. At that point, the Hogs were in the midst of a 12-1 run over the previous 4:27. That opened the five-point lead. It happened because, and this isn’t a typo, Ole Miss was on a 1 for 22 streak from the floor.

One. For. Twenty-two.

The team whose coach announced the day before he was stepping down at the end of the season, the winningest coaches in school history, the Rebels did nothing for him. Arkansas (18-8, 7-6) was doing nothing special defensively. This wasn’t 40 Minutes of Hell. It wasn’t Fastest40. None of those marketing slogans applied to anything the Razorbacks were doing. Ole Miss was just miserable. Brain-numbingly miserable.

The Rebels were shooting 17 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. The 11-point halftime deficit they were saddled with may as well have been 31. Given Mike Anderson’s team had won 34 straight games in which they had a halftime lead, no one had a doubt about that number becoming 35.

Which is the wonder Arkansas let it collapse. Ole MIss took the flat-footed visitors by surprise to start the second half. It didn’t rally enough to lead, but pulled within a single possession and hovered within two possessions for most of the next several minutes.

Arkansas had enough decent basketball to counteract Ole Miss’ mediocrity to ensure the Rebels never saw the lead again. An 11-0 run in the final 10 minutes ultimately sent the home team to its seventh straight loss.

Daniel Gafford led Arkansas with 19 points. Three other Razorbacks players scord in double figures, as well. DeAndre Burnett was Ole Miss’ top scorer with 24.

The highlight

Darious Hall, after a couple games disappeared, was Arkansas’ best player. Fourteen points, 11 rebounds and his length on defense were helpful. In reality, he’s the best forward not named Moses Kingsley that Arkansas has had since Bobby Portis left. And this is his first year.

The lowlight

Most of it. Not that Arkansas played bad basketball, necessarily, but as mentioned, it wasn’t the type of basketball the suggests a fantastic final third of the SEC slate for the Razorbacks. They have to play better than they did Tuesday to go .500 down the stretch – that, by the way, is the mark Arkansas needs to hit (at least) to make the NCAA Tournament.

What’s next for Arkansas?

No more easy opponents for the Razorbacks. Every team left on the Arkansas’ schedule is, as of Tuesday afternoon, projected to make the NCAA Tournament. Every team left on Arkansas’ schedule is ahead of or tied with the Razorbacks in the SEC standings. Six games. The first is Saturday afternoon at Bud Walton Arena against Texas A&M.