By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – If Ole Miss is to get a handle on its season it will first have to get a handle on the basketball.
The Rebels struggled to keep a grip on the ball in an 81-55 loss at LSU in the SEC opener. Tonight they’ll face the league’s best and take-aways – Arkansas.
“The good thing is we’re going to be at home,” Ole Miss assistant coach Sergio Rouco said.
Tipoff at Tad Smith Coliseum is 7 p.m., and the game will be televised as part of the SEC Network package with live streaming at ESPN3.com. It will be also be seen on the MyMS channel.
Ole Miss (10-5, 0-1 SEC) may get a boost by the return of Murphy Holloway, the SEC’s third-leading rebounder.
The junior forward hasn’t played since sustaining a severe ankle sprain against Middle Tennessee on Dec. 21. It was the second game in a stretch of four losses in five games for the Rebels.
Holloway went through warm-ups at LSU but told coach Andy Kennedy he didn’t believe he was ready to play.
Kennedy said Holloway practiced on Monday, and prior to Tuesday’s work called Holloway’s return “probable.”
Arkansas (12-3, 1-0) scored 23 points off 18 forced turnovers in its 98-88 SEC-opening win over Mississippi State.
“They want to turn you over and speed up the game, and we’ve got to prepare for that frenetic type of basketball,” Rouco said.
Arkansas leads the SEC in turnover margin at plus-4.67. Ole Miss is 11th at minus-.87. The Razorbacks are No. 2 in assist-turnover ratio at 1.2, the Rebels last at .7.
Ole Miss had five assists against 17 turnovers at LSU.
“I have no answer. I really thought we would be ready to start SEC play,” said junior guard Nick Williams, who questioned the Rebels’ effort. “Some guys have to step up. If one guy’s not doing it, it’s the next guy up. We’ve just got to play a lot harder, a lot harder.”
Arkansas scored 23 points off 18 forced turnovers Saturday against Mississippi State.
Ole Miss swept the two-game series with Arkansas last year, winning 69-60 in Fayetteville and later winning 84-74 in Oxford. The Rebels have won six of the last seven against the Razorbacks.
Rouco said the inexperience of the Ole Miss players – a freshman starting point guard and four more freshmen among the key reserves – have contributed to inconsistency among the ball-handling.
The Razorbacks are young too. Freshmen Devonta Abron, Rashad Madden, Hunter Mickelson and B.J. Young have combined for 505 points, 24 of them by Young off the bench against MSU, which struggled with his dribble penetration.
“We’re not making excuses, but when Murphy Holloway goes down we really lose a lot. We’ve got to be strong with the basketball. We play a lot of young kids at the 1-2-3. They’ve got to be able to control pressure and handle the tempo of the game,” Rouco said. “It’s tough for these young kids to understand how hard they really need to play.”
Bulldogs play Thursday
Mississippi State gets an extra night to regroup after Saturday’s 98-88 loss at Arkansas. The Bulldogs are home Thursday night against Tennessee in a game to be seen on ESPN2.