Sunday, January 14, 2007

Inside Play helps Ole Miss beat Arkansas

OXFORD — They had been pushed around, boxed out and dominated by Ole Miss' last three opponents.
They missed open layups on the offensive end, gave up easier buckets on defense and faced the fact they had become the obvious weakness of a struggling team. So when the Rebels undersized and outmanned frontcourt prepared to play Arkansas on Saturday, it had one thing in mind: It had to change - immediately.
The group accomplished its mission against the bigger, taller Razorbacks, leading the Rebels to a nail-biting, 74-72 win in front of 7,292 in Tad Smith Coliseum.
Led by Dwayne Curtis' 20 points and 12 rebounds, the Rebels (12-5, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) got key contributions on both ends of the floor from each post player to snap a three-game losing streak.
"They did everything that post players were supposed to do and they did it well," guard Bam Doyne said. "It just led to other great things. Shots, steals and easy buckets.
"Everything that comes with having great post players."
It also helped Ole Miss claim its second SEC win in the past 16 games. The only other win during that stretch was also against Arkansas (12-5, 1-2) which has lost 10 of its past 11 games in Oxford.
"It's for our guys, for our psyche," coach Andy Kennedy said. "I've got a fragile group. I could see a relief come over them because now they know. Arkansas is as good as anybody in our league. They've proven that to this point.
"(Saturday's) effort, despite our inefficiency at times, showed what we're capable of doing."
The biggest improvement came from the frontcourt, which turned in its worst performance at Mississippi State on Wednesday. But Curtis said the long bus ride from Starkville - which was filled with film study that replayed the deficiencies - served as motivation for the group to change Saturday.
It was obvious from the start, when Curtis, Kenny Williams (10 points, 7 rebounds) and Jermey Parnell (4 points, 4 rebounds) set the tone by totaling 26 points and 12 rebounds to help Ole Miss open a 38-30 halftime lead. Much like the past three games, it didn't last.
After Ole Miss built its lead to 63-49, Arkansas responded with a 16-2 run to tie the game at 65-65 with 4:07 remaining.
The Hogs took the lead when forward Charles Thomas - the former Callaway star who scored a game-high 23 points - knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 72-71 with 31 seconds left.
"We knew they were going to bring the fight to us," Williams said. "That's our main problem this year, being mentally strong. When adversity shows up, keep playing.
"We know they're going to make runs, but we've got to, too."
It wasn't a run, but Ole Miss scored the final three points. Curtis was fouled by Arkansas guard Gary Ervin and made both free throws to make it 73-72.
MSU transfer Ervin then drove and was stripped by Williams underneath the bucket with 11 seconds left. After Clarence Sanders made one free throw, Ervin missed another field goal attempt with Williams in his face.
But Ervin tied up Curtis to give Arkansas another chance with less than one second left. An attempted lob was tipped away by Williams, leading to a celebration at midcourt.
"We knew it was going to be a very big challenge," Kennedy said. "Although, certainly it was a little nerve-wracking for me at the end, we found a way to win and hopefully that will do wonders for the confidence of this group."
Especially for Ole Miss' frontcourt, which buried a frustrating three-game stretch Saturday.
"It's a release," Williams said. "I was bleeding from this whole left side from these three losses we had. ... So now, this wound is kind of patched up."

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