At the moment Ole Miss needed him the most Murphy Holloway was there, and he brought with him 19 points and 14 rebounds. Holloway, a step-up 18-point performance by Nick Williams, and a rebounding advantage of 48-26 were the difference for the Rebels as they surprised everybody, not least of all me, with a 71-63 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks. These are the same Razorbacks that beat No. 15 Mississippi State 98-88 just four days ago facing the same Ole Miss team that had lost four of five including Saturday's 81-55 shellacking at the paws of LSU. Few were would have predicted this result, but it just goes to show the difficulty that is winning on the road in the SEC - and the importance of one Murphy Holloway.
In getting the win, Ole Miss (11-5, 1-1) avoided an 0-2 SEC start and losing five of its last six games. The season is at least temporarily rescued from what was starting to look quite dire. Holloway, who has been out since getting hurt in a December 21 loss to Arkansas was the difference. While Holloway's importance to this basketball team has now been established, he can't carry the Rebels to victory every time. The 18 points from junior guard Nick Williams, the only experienced player in the Ole Miss backcourt, was every bit as crucial. Williams has averaged less than 10 points per game throughout the season. Andy Kennedy has been desperately looking for a guard who could score points. The difference in this basketball game was the fact that Holloway in combination with Williams supplied 37 of them. Add an 11-point contribution from Jarvis Summers and suddenly it's not so hard to get over that 50-point target Kennedy says the Rebels need for a chance. These types of performances will be needed on a regular basis if Ole Miss hopes to get past the .500 mark in the SEC. Kennedy knows he's not out of the woods.
If there's one thing I'll say about Kennedy he never backs down from the truth:
"Nothing else changed," Kennedy told reporters after the game. "We still can't make an open shot, we made a few free throws, turned it over 23 times, tried to let them hang around. But when Murph's back it energizes our frontcourt. We get 25 rebounds out of those two positions and it make a huge difference."
Ole Miss remains offensively challenged, shooting 0-for-7 from 3-pt range. The Rebels did manage to shoot 50-percent from the field. There's still the real fear this team will show up with a 30-percent shooting performance and get wiped off the floor on any given night, circa LSU last Saturday, but for now Ole Miss can enjoy the feeling of a win, having a bona fide team leader in Holloway and pat themselves on the back for a good night of basketball. It's a welcome change of pace from a dismal two weeks.
Next up is Auburn - at Auburn. It's a proven fact that road wins in the SEC are hard to come by. The Tigers made No. 2 Kentucky sweat last night before the Wildcats pulled away for a 68-53 win in Auburn. Auburn has struggled this year and is one of the few SEC teams that should afford Ole Miss a chance at a two-game sweep and a rare road victory. The Rebels need to take advantage.