OXFORD, Miss. — Four of the last seven games for Arkansas have come down to a last-second shot and the Razorbacks finally had one go their way at Ole Miss on Saturday.
It actually took two shots for Arkansas and then a miss by the Rebels as the Hogs snapped a 13-game Southeastern Conference road losing streak with a 66-65 victory. The win is the first for Arkansas at Oxford in eight years, since a 63-62 victory in 1996. It is also Arkansas’ first one-point victory since a 75-74 SEC Tournament first-round win over Florida in 1999.
“This is a big win for our program,” UA head coach Stan Heath said. “I feel like we finally turned a corner. This is also a big win for our fans. I feel that this has boosted our confidence.”
Following near-misses in losses to then-No. 21 Alabama, at LSU and against then-No. 6 Kentucky, junior Dontell Jefferson stepped to the line with three seconds left and the score tied at 65-65.
Todd Abernethy hit one of two free throws 14 seconds earlier to tie the game. Arkansas rushed the ball down the floor and passed inside to Darian Townes, who had his highest-scoring conference game of the year with 19 points on eight-of-14 shooting. Townes’ turnaround jumper over Marvin Moore was short, but Jefferson came down the left baseline to get the rebound was fouled by Moore trying putback.
“It’s disappointing to be in a game that comes down to that kind of situation,” Ole Miss head coach Rod Barnes said. “They could have just let the ball hit the ground and let the two teams go to overtime. I know it’s a judgment call on the officials, but let the kids decide it in overtime.”
Jefferson missed the first free throw but hit nothing but net on the second to give the Hogs the lead.
“I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “I just wanted to give us the lead.”
“I really didn’t expect Dontell to be there,” Heath said. “He just stuck his nose in there and went for the ball. I think he just wiped the first missed free throw away and made the second one. We would have liked to seen him get both, but he made the winning shot.”
Ole Miss inbounded and immediately called a timeout after not advancing the ball. The Rebels called their last timeout without inbounding after seeing Arkansas’ defensive set. With 1.5 seconds left and 7-0 Steven Hill guarding the inbounds pass, a length-of-the-floor pass was snared by Moore, who badly missed a fall-away jumper from the right corner as the horn sounded.
Seven games back, on Jan. 11, Eric Ferguson missed an open three from the left wing that would have forced overtime in a 64-61 loss to No. 21 Alabama. Five games ago, Michael Jones’ apparent game-winning three from the top of the key with two seconds left at LSU was ruled a two and the Razorbacks lost in overtime on Jan. 19, 66-63. Last Saturday, at home against No. 6 Kentucky, Ferguson’s three from the top of the key at the buzzer was off the back of the rim in a 68-67 setback.
Arkansas, which beat the Rebels in Fayetteville on Jan. 5, 69-46, swept the season series from Ole Miss for the first time since 1996.
The Razorbacks, 15-7 overall and 3-6 in the SEC, had a 32-31 rebounding advantage, and had 16 assists, a career-high seven by Jonathon Modica, and just 13 turnovers while forcing 15 turnovers.
“Arkansas came in here, played hard and did a good job of making plays,” Barnes said. “We just had too many turnovers and missed too many free throws.”
Ole Miss shot 51.1 percent for the game (24-47), including 52.4 percent in the first half (11-21), while Arkansas shot 42.3 (22-52), including 36 percent in the first half (9-25).
Despite the shooting difference, UA led 35-32 at the half – its first halftime lead on the road since the 62-52 win at Missouri on Dec. 7, which was also Arkansas’ last road win.
Arkansas, which led by as much as nine in the first period, managed that lead by going 13-of-18 at the line in the opening half. For the game, the Hogs were 17-of-24 at the line while Ole Miss was 15-of-28.
In the second half, UA built a 55-44 lead with 9:01 remaining following a steal by Ronnie Brewer and a dunk by Jefferson.
Ole Miss, 12-11 overall and 3-7 in the SEC, went on an 18-4 run and led 62-59 on a Cavadas Nunnery jumper with 1:46 left.
“It is disappointing to see an 11-point lead wiped away like that,” Heath said. “Credit Ole Miss. They played hard and got the lead at one point close to the end. This is just a tough place to play. There have been some really good Razorback teams that couldn’t win here.”
“I felt we weren’t playing with a great deal of excitement up until that point,” Barnes said. “We kept plugging along and made plays on the defensive end.”
Modica scored four straight points, including two free throws, in a 24-second stretch to give Arkansas a 65-64 lead with 39 seconds remaining before Abernethy tied the game with 17 seconds to go.
Townes led the Hogs with his 19 points while Brewer had 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. Modica, who made his first start since the Illinois game on Dec. 4 – a span of 16 games – had 13 points and five rebounds along with his game-high seven assists. Ferguson had seven points and four assists, and Jefferson finished with five points, four rebounds and two assists.
Moore was seven-of-nine from the floor and led Ole Miss with a game-high 22 points. Londrick Nolen had 11 on five-of-seven shooting, but the other Rebels were a combined 12-of-31 from the field.
Arkansas returns home for two straight, beginning with Wednesday’s 7:05 p.m. tilt against Georgia, which is being televised by Jefferson-Pilot Sports.