Nolan Richardson, who was in the sold-out crowd Saturday at Walton Arena in Fayetteville, had a lot of sayings, all of them pertinent but none more so than "a rickety ride is better than a smooth walk."
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Razorbacks led by 16 points in the first half when they were shooting lights out and playing improved defense, but they had to hold on to come away with a 97-93 victory over Ole Miss in a game in which they trailed for 21 seconds but led by only two, 95-93, with 10.9 seconds left.
The Hogs went the final 4:04 without a field goal, but the worst free-throw shooting team in the SEC going into the game made 13 of 16 free throws -- 7 of 8 from Daryl Macon, including the final four -- and survived to pick up their third SEC victory against four losses.
Ole Miss threw every defense it could at the Hogs in the second half -- shifting from a 1-3-1 zone to a 2-3 zone to man coverage -- and while the home team's shooting cooled off quickly, the Razorbacks stepped up at the free-throw line and made 18 of 22 in the second half.
It was not a game in which the officials would let the teams play after they had to warn both teams in the first half to stop mouthing. So the teams shot 64 free throws, with Arkansas shooting nine more because the Rebels were having to foul inside the final two minutes to stop the clock.
It wasn't an ugly victory as much as it was a a victory of patience and endurance, although it appeared for most of the first half the Hogs would blow out the Rebels.
When you shoot 59 percent from the floor, including 61.5 percent on three-pointers, and make 76.9 percent of your free throws, you almost have to be ahead. The Hogs were, 50-38, over a feisty bunch of hard-nosed Rebels.
Terence Davis, who was averaging only 7.2 points per game in SEC play, was back in the starting lineup and led Ole Miss with 30 points. The Hogs did not have an answer for the junior guard.
What the Razorbacks had were three weapons, and it is hard to imagine Ole Miss had thought to prepare for one of them.
Daryl Macon, usually a starter, came off the bench to score 13 points in less than four minutes. He made 3 three-pointers, and when he ended his personal run with two free throws, the Hogs led 32-21. He finished with 20 points, all free throws in the second half.
The other thing was the inspired play of two true freshmen, and it seems like a long time since the Razorbacks had a pair of freshman draws like these two.
Daniel Gafford, from El Dorado, and Darious Hall, from Little Rock, combined for 17 big points in the first half and 26 for the game.
Gafford, 6-11 and 234 pounds of fearlessness, also grabbed nine rebounds and blocked three shots. He's already become a force, and Hall is quickly becoming one.
No one is more active and trying harder for Arkansas than Hall. He's in constant motion and trying to get everyone involved in the game. He may be the most natural leader on the floor.
The Hogs had nine steals and the Rebels offered a couple of unpressured turnovers as the Razorbacks outscored the visitors 21-18 on points off turnovers.
This was the type of result most expected after the victory over Tennessee that opened SEC play, but the Hogs have sputtered since then.
On Saturday, with the game on the line and Ole Miss refusing to believe it could lose, the Hogs dug in their heels in and took a rickety ride to victory by doing something that didn't look possible -- they made their free throws.
Sports on 01/21/2018
Print Headline: Razorbacks happy to take a rickety ride