BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Kermit Davis thought his Ole Miss team was doing just fine in the first half Saturday at Bud Walton Arena, but then Pinion happened.
Anthony Black and Devo Davis had 17 point to lead Arkansas, but it was Arkansas freshman Joseph Pinion that flipped the game by scoring 8 of his 13 points late in the first half of what turned into a 69-57 win for the Razorbacks.
Pinion’s explosion helped break a four-game losing streak for Arkansas (13-6, 2-5) and spoiled a game plan for Davis, who intended for his Rebels (9-10, 1-6) to make the Razorbacks bomb away from outside in a match up of two of the nation’s worst 3-point shooting teams.
Arkansas came into the 330th out of 363 college basketball teams in 3-point shooting at 29.8 percent, which was just three places better than Ole Miss’ 333rd marksmanship of 29.7 percent.
But with his team trailing 25-24, Pinion – who was 5 of 10 overall shooting and 3 of 6 from 3-point range – put in a rebound basket and then nailed two 3-pointers to spark his team to a 32-29 halftime lead.
“They average making about four a game in our league and so we were really trying to focus on the gaps,” Davis said. “I thought we did a really good job in the first half. But they still got some 50-50 balls and some offensive rebounds and then we just had some turnovers in the backcourt that just led to buckets.
“Then Pinion made – I don’t know how many (points) he made, maybe eight – but he sure helped them. Then they got going a little bit when they got up…So I thought the same thing – him coming in and just catching and shooting it kind of flip the game a little bit.”
Pinion, who tied his career-high in points and also had 5 rebounds, got loose for the two 3-pointers – one Davis regrets and the other on which the praised 6-10 Arkansas center Mahki Mitchell for his pass.
“The (first) one, we were firing the ball screens, double-teaming the ball screens and it was really, really effective,” Davis said. “One time Tye Fagan came off of him and shouldn’t of.
“The second time, they just made a good play. We were in rotations after the fire and then the big fella (Mitchell), who is not great skilled, he made a good play to the corner. We dropped in to protect the rim and it was just a good play.
“It is just one of those things like football where you make a blitz and the guy picked it up and got him.”
Arkansas, which won despite leading scorer Ricky Council (over 18 points per game) having just two points, finished the game 8 of 20 from 3-point range while Ole Miss was 5 of 13.
“But that’s still the way to play Arkansas, get in the gaps,” Davis said. “Still at that, we hold them to under 70 points to give yourself a chance to win. We just couldn’t generate enough offense.
“…Just too many turnovers (17) and not enough poise on the road.”
Arkansas scored 10 of the second half’s first 12 points to give itself a a 43-31 lead on Black’s dunk with 14:16 left in the game.
It was at that point that Ole Miss lost its leading scorer Matt Murrell to a knee injury.
Murrell was 1 of 5 for shooting ( 0 of 1 from 3) for 3 points in 23 minutes of action against Arkansas after having 23 points in his team’s 70-58 win at South Carolina on Tuesday night.
Javyeous McKinnis and Daeshun Ruffin both had 10 points to lead Ole Miss, who played without freshman guard TJ Caldwell, who was suspended for game after being late to practice per Davis.
The Razorbacks’ lead would crest at 21 points when Jordan Walsh’s 3-pointer surged Arkansas ahead 63-42 with 6:16 remaining.
“The second half, we couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Davis said. “You have got to expect that Arkansas is going to score some points, a little bit, but we couldn’t match scores, couldn’t get any rhythm offensively…Even before Matt got hurt, we didn’t have a great rhythm. They did a good job on him.”
Photo by John D. James