Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Even with a 6-game losing streak and playing an opponent that beat them by 17 in January in Oxford, Miss., it seemed these struggling Razorbacks couldn’t lose while honoring their 1994 national championship team.
Thanks to Jalen Harris and Gabe Osabuohien at the end, they didn’t.
Point guard Harris’ basket with five seconds left, and forward Osabuohien picking off the Ole Miss Rebels’ last pass for hot-shooting guard Breein Tyree first overcame a 73-72 Ole Miss lead and preserved Arkansas’ 74-73 SEC victory Saturday at Walton Arena.
A big 22 points off the bench by Arkansas guard Mason Jones helped, too, as did 17 points by Arkansas center Daniel Gafford.
The victory for Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks, with Anderson an assistant on the 1994 team and assistant coach Scotty Thurman the 1994 team’s 3-point shooting star, was witnessed by Hall of Fame Coach Nolan Richardson and all of his team that without other obligations could attend their 25th reunion of Arkansas’ lone national basketball championship.
““It was special,” Anderson said of winning witnessed by his old coach and those he assisted coaching. “Obviously I was a part of it so to have them in the audience and to witness it. I had a couple of guys come in, the national championship guys, Clint McDaniel and Elmer Martin share their experiences with our team. Clint made the statement that ‘’We played here for 25 years ago and obviously we did some great things, but now we live through you guys now.’ I think it kind of resonated.”
It always resonates with Razorbacks grown up in Arkansas like El Dorado’s Gafford.
“They kind of fueled some of our energy,” Gafford said. “They were here and had energy for us, the crowd had energy for us. If it wasn’t for the crowd we probably wouldn’t have pulled this out because we had to feed off them.”
Saturday’s Razorbacks revival ekes them past .500 overall, 15-14, and 6-10 in the SEC going into the final SEC regular-season week Wednesday at Vanderbilt before finishing against Alabama next Saturday at Walton.
The Rebels of first-year Coach Kermit Davis go 19-10, 9-7 into hosting Kentucky Tuesday night.
Tyree, 20 points, had put Ole Miss up 71-68 with free throws at 1:45.
Gafford, who had “cussed myself out” for his previous 1 for 6 free throw shooting, was fouled at 1:29 and sunk them both.
Tyree struck again on a 2-pointer for 73-70 at 1:07.
Gafford, on a Harris assist, dunked with 43 seconds left leaving Ole Miss a 1-point lead and the ball which the Rebels tried to keep with Tyree.
Osabuohien was credited with dislodging the ball from Tyree l which Arkansas’ Isaiah Joe dove upon and got to Gafford who got tied up in a scramble with the possession arrow in Arkansas’ favor with 18 seconds left.
Harris dribbled for 13 seconds looking in vain for Gafford then saw an opening inside and banked it in high off the backboard before Ole Miss 7-footer Dominic Olejniczak could swat it.
“Dom made a good play to try to block it,”Ole Miss Coach Kermit Davis said. “And Harris just kissed it high off the glass, almost like the one Breein made on the other end. Just give him credit. It was a long possession and I don’t know who got hit but somebody had to get hit on a screen and stop on the last play for him to get that open.”
Harris said actually it was the fall of Joe giving rise to his game-winner.
“Originally, the play was designed for Dan, so once I saw Dan wasn’t open I dribbled over and saw Isaiah,” Harris said. “He rolled his foot, and when he rolled his foot his man stopped playing and that’s what opened up the lane. They always teach me to get the ball high or it’s going to get blocked, so I just went with my instincts, put the ball in the air and it went in.”
Harris recalled some close losses, three against Western Kentucky, Missouri and Texas Tech, when he had the ball late and it didn’t go well.
“Knowing I’ve been in those situations a lot and haven’t really executed,” Harris said – “Coach A still has faith in me to keep the ball so it feels good.”
Ole Miss still had time for Tyree “to go 100 miles an hour” which he was supposed to do on a quick Olejniczak handoff after Tyree inbounded to him Kermit Davis said.
With Tyree scoring Ole Miss’ last eight points, Arkansas knew the Rebels’ game plan.
“Tyree was trying to take over by himself, but we had enough in us to get stops,” Anderson said,
Harris denied notions of handoff. Osabuohien, helping, too, was there to pick off Olejniczak’s pass.
“That was the icing on the cake,” Gafford said. “Even though Gabe almost traveled at the end. I guess he was so happy he got the steal he started jumping up and down with the ball in his hands. But to get that steal and officially seal the deal and hear the final buzzer and we’re up, that was the best feeling of the game.”
They couldn’t have attained that feeling without sophomore guard Jones, and his game high 22 points, including 6 of 8 treys, in a game with 21 lead changes that Arkansas needed to shoot 55 percent from the field to win by one.
“Mason plays 29 minutes off the bench and has 22 points,” Anderson said “That’s big for our basketball team.”
Big enough that Davis said his Rebels should have noticed the 6-5 guard averaging 13.7 points before his 22 Saturday.
“He’s a good offensive player, especially if you are not near him very much,” Davis said. “We weren’t near him very much.”
And these Hogs were close enough to old champions to their conjure old times.
Nate Allen Sports