By Chris Burrows
OXFORD Don’t mention last year’s 76-71 win over then-defending national champion Arkansas to Ole Miss head coach Rob Evans. That’s old news.
“A lot of water has gone under the bridge in a year,” Evans said. “What happened then has nothing to do with what happens now. We gained something from it, we’ve built off of it, but every game is different.”
Tonight’s game, with a 7 p.m. tipoff, features teams with new lineups. Of the 10 projected starters, none started in last year’s game. The Rebels come in 5-6, 0-2 while the Razorbacks are 8-4, 1-1 and the season’s largest crowd is expected at Tad Smith Coliseum.
“It’s good to be home,” Evans said. “I know our players feel better about being here. It’s an important game for a lot of reasons.”
Not the least of which is the need for a win. The Rebels are coming off lopsided road losses to the East Division’s two favorites Georgia and Kentucky. Beginning tonight, the Rebels get a two-game set against the West Division’s two favorites Arkansas and Mississippi State.
“I don’t expect the two road losses to be a major factor. That’s my job, to make sure we’re ready to play emotionally every night,” Evans said. “We knew with a young club that we could be looking at a tough start, but I believe we’ve learned something.”
Emotionally, Ole Miss shouldn’t have trouble getting interested since Keith Carter, Anthony Boone and Jason Smith are from Arkansas. Evans can’t project how much emotion can be generated by that fact.
“You never know,” Evans said. “We’ve done a good job recruiting Arkansas kids and each is going to be outstanding before they leave here. But we’re playing against a team that’s got an awful lot of talent and is very athletic.”
The Razorbacks are lead by Jackson native Jesse Pate, who is averaging 18.5 points after transferring from Chipola (Fla.) Community College. Pate was a teammate of Ole Miss guard Joezon Darby at Murrah High School.
The Rebels continue to use a lineup with two freshmen, Michael White and Carter, along with sophomores Ansu Sesay and Boone. For the first time this season, Ervin Garnes will yield his starting slot to fellow senior John Jackson.