Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Doubling down: Trailing by 11, Razorbacks hit again
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe (1) reacts after making a 3-pointer against Ole Miss during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Oxford, Miss. (Bruce Newman/The Oxford Eagle via AP)
OXFORD, Miss. -- The University of Arkansas men's basketball team doesn't mind being down 11 points on the road in the second half.
In fact, the Razorbacks seem to like it.
Arkansas rallied to beat Ole Miss 76-72 on Saturday night before an announced crowd of 8,233 at The Pavilion after trailing 49-38 with 14:20 left on KJ Buffen's three-point play.
It was a replay of the Razorbacks' 71-64 victory at Indiana on Dec. 29, when they trailed 50-39 with 16:04 left.
"We're a resilient team," Arkansas senior guard Jimmy Whitt said. "We're just going to keep fighting until the end of the game. There's not too much pressure on us, because we know we've done it before. It just comes down to execution and making plays."
It also came down to sophomore guard Isaiah Joe having a monster offensive game against Ole Miss, just like he did at Indiana.
Joe matched his career-high with 34 points against the Rebels -- he also had 34 last season against Florida International -- and his three-point barrage fueled Arkansas' comeback, just as he did at Indiana when he scored 26 points.
"That's Isaiah Joe," Whitt said. "That's what we expect. When he has it going like that, as a team we're just going to keep feeding him. Keep getting him the ball and letting him make plays."
Back-to-back three-pointers by Joe pulled Arkansas within 64-62 with 5:33 left.
As his second three-pointer swished through the net, Razorbacks forward Adrio Bailey was pushed to the floor by Ole Miss' Blake Hinson. Bailey, a senior forward, hit both free throws to complete a five-point possession that tied it 64-64.
Ole Miss momentarily recovered to go ahead 68-64 on Hinson's rebound basket, but the Razorbacks (13-2, 2-1 SEC) closed on a 12-4 run over the final 4:35.
Joe scored eight consecutive points to give Arkansas a 74-70 lead, including two free throws with 17.2 seconds left.
After Breein Tyree scored on a layup for Ole Miss with 11.1 seconds left to make it 74-72, Whitt clinched the victory by hitting two free throws with eight seconds remaining.
"I just think that this group, we don't really fear anything," Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. "In the huddle, at halftime, if we're down we still think we're going to win.
"I think that's the mark of a really tough team, and I think we're tough-minded."
Joe said he felt confident with Whitt -- a fifth-year senior graduate transfer from SMU who played at Arkansas as a true freshman -- going to the free-throw line to put the game away.
"Jimmy's a grad, man," Joe said. "He's been in this position for five years. He's real calm at the line. He doesn't get rattled. So we knew going to the line that he was going to knock those down."
Joe hit 11 of 18 shots, including 7 of 13 three-pointers, and 5 of 5 free throws. He scored 26 points in the second half by hitting 8 of 10 shots and 5 of 7 three-pointers.
"We just did a poor job at the end of getting to Joe," Ole Miss Coach Kermit Davis said. "We tried to stay on top of him, and I thought we did for the most part.
"He'll make one, and then he'll get going. You can't just look at him [deep on the court] and say, 'No'. This is where he makes balls from. He's made them there the two years he's been at Arkansas.
"We relaxed and just didn't get to him, fouled him one time. It's a unique talent when you can make them that deep. He's got great length and a high release."
Razorbacks junior guard Mason Jones had 13 points, a career-high 9 assists and 6 rebounds. He was 3 of 12 from the field, but 6 of 6 on free throws.
"I was really proud of Mason not trying to force things," Musselman said. "He recognized tonight that Isaiah was rolling, and he made some incredible passes.
"He's playing the power forward, but he's really kind of a point guard for us as well at times."
Whitt scored 11 points, sophomore guard Desi Sills had 9 and Bailey added 8.
Tyree led Ole Miss (9-6, 0-2) with 27 points, Hinson added 13 and Buffen 12.
Arkansas led 72-70 when Buffen rebounded a miss by Hinson with 18 seconds left, but he then had the ball stolen by Joe, who had two steals and two blocked shots.
"I don't think he's a good defender. I think he's a great defender," Musselman said of Joe. "He's long, he's got great anticipation. He understands his assignment every night.
"There is absolutely no doubt he's one of the best defenders in this league from a guard standpoint, and I think he doesn't get enough credit defensively."
Arkansas forced 16 Ole Miss turnovers, and the Razorbacks finished with a 21-7 advantage in points off turnovers.
"Some teams beat you on the glass, and we're beating teams off creating turnovers and having that be a huge margin for us based on our aggressive defense," Musselman said.
Ole Miss outrebounded Arkansas 40-28, but that was a vast improvement over the Razorbacks' 79-77 loss at LSU on Wednesday night when the Tigers pounded them 53-24 on the boards.
"I'll live with minus-12," Musselman said. "I don't want to look at minus-30 anymore."
Musselman said the Razorbacks made two defensive adjustments in the final minutes against Ole Miss with Whitt face-guarding Tyree and Sills trapping him.
"At the end, they got the ball out of Breein's hands three or four trips," Davis said. "And nobody else on our team could go make a play."
The Rebels shot 2 of 7 and had 3 turnovers on their final nine possessions.
"I think what won us the game was defensive stops at the end," Whitt said. "Obviously, we had big-time offensive possessions, but if you can't get stops coming at critical times you can't win.
"That's the most impressive thing we did. We couldn't just keep trading baskets."
Sports on 01/12/2020
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