By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – It’s asking a lot of your freshman forward to erase 41 points. That’s not what Ole Miss players expect from Reggie Buckner today, but they know he needs a big game.
Buckner, the Rebels’ best low-post defender, missed the first of four straight games with a high ankle sprain when Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 80-73 on Jan. 31. The Razorbacks had their way with the Rebels inside, as frontcourt starters Michael Washington and Marshawn Powell scored 22 and 19 points respectively.
It’s what some ESPN bracketologists refer to as a “bad loss,” because of Arkansas’ current RPI ranking of 141.
It’s a loss, however, that may still be overcome, but not if post defense is improved today. Tipoff at Bud Walton Arena is 3 p.m., and the game will be televised locally on WCBI.
To maintain hope of an NCAA tournament at-large bid – something the program hasn’t had since 2002 – it’s a must-win game for Ole Miss (20-9, 8-7 SEC).
The opportunity weighs heavily on players’ minds.
“We never stop talking about it,” junior point guard Chris Warren said. “We’ve never given up hope. We kept fighting, and we’re still fighting. All we can do is do our part and hope things fall in place.”
Arkansas (14-16, 7-8 SEC) was an early Western Division leader but has hit the skids lately with four straight losses, five in its last six games.
Washington and Powell haven’t been as good together as they were in Oxford, but one has always been around. It’s usually been Powell, an athletic 6-foot-7 freshman, who has scored 23 points or more in three of his last five games.
He can vanish too. He’s had just eight points Wednesday at Tennessee and just five points 10 days ago against LSU.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy is hoping Buckner can help Washington and Powell vanish, or at least impact the outcome far less than they did in late January.
In 11 SEC games Buckner has blocked 16 shots but just four in the five games since his absence. He had no blocked shots but did pick up two steals – and four fouls – in the Rebels’ 72-59 win against LSU Thursday night.
“With Reggie’s presence, it’s good to get him back and get him 15 minutes, but he’ll get four fouls because his timing is still not there,” Kennedy said. “He’s almost too anxious. He’s jumping for everything. He’s lost a little bit of his rhythm. We’ve got to continue to hope that he gets that back. Having him back gives us another body and a presence.”
Timing has been difficult for Buckner to achieve, because, while he’s ready for game day, he misses a great deal of practice time between games as gets the ankle ready for the next game.
“Reggie’s playing good. He’s come back off that ankle injury, and it’s good that he didn’t let that mess with him mentally,” Warren said. “We need him to play big, and he’s playing big.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org