By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The re-emergence of Terrico White was the spark Ole Miss needed in the second half at Auburn on Thursday night.
They’ll need White again – on defense as much as offense – to keep the SEC fire burning today.
No. 18 Ole Miss (16-4, 4-2 SEC) has won three straight, two of them on the road, and is back home today to face an Arkansas (9-11, 2-3 SEC) team that has been average at times but explosive with its own re-emerging guard – Courtney Fortson.
Tipoff at Tad Smith Coliseum today is 6 p.m., and the game – delayed from Saturday afternoon due to bad weather – will not be televised.
White had scored only three points over his last three halves of basketball but was 7-for-8 from the field, and Ole Miss torched Auburn with 65.4 percent shooting in the second of an 84-74 win.
“Their size on the perimeter really bothered us,” Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said.
As good as White was offensively – hitting mid-range pull-up jump shots and long 3-pointers – the Rebels’ size was particularly troublesome on Auburn’s offensive end.
Auburn shot just 36.5 percent, and was just 3-for-17 from 3-point range in the second half. The Tigers had a few open looks, but most shots were contested.
“Defensively we were much better at extending,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We zoned a good bit, and we tried to make sure we knew where their guys were.”
A 3-point shooting team by design, Auburn put up 36 shots beyond arc. The Tigers got little done inside the Ole Miss zone. Often when they did get inside the Rebels were able to get a blocked shot or a stop by some other method.
Arkansas will have a strong post presence today in 6-foot-10 senior Michael Washington, a preseason All-SEC choice.
Washington had scored in double figures six straight games before getting just three points in the Razorbacks’ 67-62 win over Mississippi State on Thursday. He had a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds two weeks ago in the Razorbacks’ 71-59 home win over Alabama.
The Rebels excelled against Auburn’s weaker post game, but defense down low has been problematic for Ole Miss more times than not with opponents often approaching or surpassing 30 free throw attempts.
Auburn got to the free throw line just 14 times.
Free throws will become a greater concern today if Ole Miss guards are beaten off the dribble by Fortson.
The Razorbacks’ sophomore point guard was suspended much of the season and will be playing in only his sixth game. Fortson scored 33 of his career-high 35 points in the second half and was 14-for-18 at the free throw line.
Ole Miss may be without one of its top defensive players, freshman forward Reginald Buckner, who missed the final 8 1/2 minutes at Auburn with a sprained ankle. His status for today is unclear.
Buckner was credited with two blocked shots against the Tigers; Kennedy thought the youngster had more.
The freshman has been coming on of late offensively and has evolved into the team’s best post scoring option. Buckner had six rebounds and eight points on 3-for-5 shooting in 24 minutes.
“We had good looks and good plays in the paint the whole game,” Ole Miss guard Chris Warren. “We kept going down there until they showed they could stop it. They didn’t, and we kept feeding it.”