By Kevin McPherson
For the first time in Mike Anderson’s eight seasons as head coach the Arkansas Razorbacks have lost four consecutive games as No. 18 Ole Miss dominated both ends of the court en route to an impressive 84-67 win Saturday at The Pavilion in Oxford, MS.
Arkansas (10-7, 1-4 SEC) is off to its worst league start since 2013-14, while Ole Miss (14-3, 3-1 SEC) has won 11 of its last 12 games and snapped a four-game losing streak against the Hogs. Arkansas suffered its second consecutive lopsided loss after its first 5 defeats were by a total of 19 points. The Hogs fell by a combined 36 points in their two-game road swing against No. 3 Tennessee and No. 18 Ole Miss this week, and the they are now 2-2 in true road games and 3-3 outside of Bud Walton Arena on the season.
“We haven’t played some of our best basketball,” Anderson said during his post-game radio interview. “I keep talking about the cylinders that you’ve got to click on, and we haven’t done that even at home or on the road. But we’ve just got to keep working and working, keep pushing until we get to that point. It’s the psyche. We’ve got to get on that winning side. We have not done that. But we’ve seen this team play really good basketball, and we’ve got to get back to doing it for 40 minutes. I think that’s the single biggest difference.”
“We saw some spurts to this game where we came down defensively and got after it, and we caused some problems for Ole Miss. I thought that got us back in the game because our defense that led to some easy offense when we came down and executed. But this afternoon I thought when we had that momentum we did not take advantage of it. That’s something we’re going to go back and watch film, and really try to learn from.”
After a 3-point play by Ole Miss that stretched the Rebels’ lead to 49-35 to open the second half, freshman guard Isaiah Joe strung together 5 straight points that fueled an 8-0 run to pull Arkansas within 49-43 at the 17:00 mark. But the Rebels blasted back with a 13-2 run capped by junior guard and leading scorer Breein Tyree’s 2-of-2 free throws that gave Ole Miss a commanding 62-45 lead with 11:24 remaining in the game. From there, Arkansas would get no closer than a 12-point deficit.
The Rebels were better shooting inside and out (48.4% on 31-of-64 field goals including 31.8% from 3 compared to the Hogs’ 40% on 22-of-55 shooting including 26.1% from 3), rebounding (40-31 for plus-9), and forcing turnovers (17-13 for plus-4). Ole Miss dominated points-in-the-paint (44-28) against an Arkansas team that is usually sound in that category, and the Rebels won fast-break points (9-0), points-off-turnovers (22-18), and second-chance-points (17-15). Arkansas did win the bench scoring battle (35-21), and though the Rebels were a blistering 88.2% at the free throw line the Hogs’ 17-of-21 effort for 81% was significantly better than their 63.8% free throw shooting coming in.
“We had some open looks early and often and just couldn’t knock them down,” Anderson said. “Just think, the day we shoot free throws well we don’t make shots against a good Ole Miss team. I thought they did some things disrupted us, but you go into this environment you’ve got to have guys that come in with that toughness. And that’s what I’ve been talking about with our guys. You are playing in the SEC, no matter where you play at home or go on the road, you’ve got to play with a level of toughness that precedes what your opponent is going to bring at you.”
“But in the second half at one point it’s a 49-43 game and we’ve got the ball. Now we’ve got to execute. That to me is the learning curve … How many 50-50 balls that were loose that we have the chance to get and they get it and they score off of it? Even when they were in the 1-3-1 (zone) we were in position to go meet the pass. That’s what we talked about. And they came and picked off a couple of them and that led to some explosive plays for them.”
Tyree led the Rebels with 22 points to go with 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, and 1 block in 36 minutes, while senior guard Terence Davis had an all-around performance of 18 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals in 32 minutes. Senior forward Bruce Stevens (14 points, mostly in the second half) and junior center Dominik Olejniczal (season-high 13 points, all in the first half) were effective controlling the paint.
For Arkansas, it was the first time this season that its bench outscored the starters (35-32). Freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson led the way with a career-high 16 points (5-of-8 field goals including 2-of-5 from 3, plus 4-of-5 free throws) to go with 1 rebound and 1 steal in 20 minutes. Sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien also had a career-high — 13 points on 5-of-9 field goals and 3-of-4 free throws — to go with 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal in a season-high 26 minutes. Joe finished with 11 points (4-of-11 field goals, including 3-of-9 from 3), 5 rebounds, 1 assists, and zero turnovers in 33 minutes.
Sophomore center Daniel Gafford and sophomore wing Mason Jones — each had a 30-points-or-more scoring game last week — combined for only 14 points on 3-of-16 field goal shooting against Ole Miss. Gafford was hounded all game long by the Rebels’ double-teams and zone-collapses around him as he finished with 9 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal in 31 minutes. Jones was 1-of-10 shooting from the field on his way to scoring only 5 points in 31 minutes after leading Arkansas with a combined 70 points in its previous three games. Sophomore point guard Jalen Harris had 3 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers in 30 minutes.
“That’s the process with a team with so many new parts,” Anderson said. “We’ve just got to keep adding on. But the main guys have to step it up. Mason goes 1 for 10. That’s hard to live with when one of your top scorers does not score. Daniel gets nine points. They blanket him and again the turnovers came back to haunt us in this game. To me it’s the ultimate team when you’ve got other guys stepping up for you. It may not be (Jones’s or Gafford’s) night and you’ve got other guys stepping up. Keyshawn was that guy and Gabe was that guy coming off the bench when we wanted some quality minutes. It’s just a matter of us putting it all together.”
For only the second time this season. Arkansas deviated from its usual starting lineup by plugging in freshman forward Reggie Chaney in place of junior forward Adrio Bailey. Chaney played 12 minutes and had 4 points and 1 rebounds, while Bailey chipped in 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in 10 minutes off the bench.
Ole Miss, a preseason pick to finish last in the 14-team SEC under Kermit Davis in his first season as head coach of the Rebels after a successful stint at Middle Tennessee State, jumped out to an early 11-2 run mostly off scores resulting from 7-0 junior center Dominik Olejniczak’s hard rim runs after setting screens in high pick-and-roll action. Arkansas countered with a 6-0 run from its second unit to pull within 11-8 at the 13:20 mark, and a few minutes later a 4-0 run by the Razorbacks would get them within 19-14 at the midway point of the first half.
But the Rebels took off from there, outscoring the Hogs 19-11 capped by Davis’s layin at 4:36 to give Ole Miss its biggest first-half lead, 38-25. Olejniczak scored all 13 of his points in the opening 20 minutes as the Rebels led, 46-35, at the break.
“Our defense, the offside help had to be in position,” Anderson said of Olejniczak’s great start through pick-and-roll that put the Hogs in an early hole. “I thought in the second half we did a better job with Gabe out there in position. But they (in the first half) took advantage of it We didn’t do a good job and (Olejniczak) got off to a good start and then it’s just a matter of time before Terence Davis gets in the flow and Tyree, another good player there. You could see their experience was the difference in this game.”
Arkansas — which has now yielded 284 combined points in consecutive losses to LSU, Tennessee, and Ole Miss — returns home to play Missouri (10-6, 1-3 SEC) on Wednesday as the Tigers picked up their first league win Saturday, 66-43, at Texas A&M. After Mizzour, its back on the road for the Razorbacks against No. 8 Texas Tech (15-2) on Saturday, Jan. 26, in the Big XII-SEC Challenge.