FAYETTEVILLE - Going into Thursday’s SEC Tournament opener for Ole Miss and second SEC Tourney game for Missouri, the Razorbacks, with the double bye, didn’t know which would be their quarterfinals opponent late Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Coach Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss Rebels went 10-8 in the SEC and stand 19-12 still with a chance to play their way into the NCAA Tournament,which already seems Arkansas achieved.
Given Missouri’s record and that on Feb. 18 the Razorbacks routed Ole Miss, 98-80 at Walton Arena in their lone SEC meeting, it seems the Razorbacks could feel overconfident about their game.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson knows better. Ole Miss guards Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis scored 27 and 24 points at Walton while Arkansas big men Moses Kingsley, 14 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots and Forrest City High grad Trey Thompson, eight points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and three assists, stifled Ole Miss center Sebastian Saiz to a 2 for 13 shooting night.
The Hogs can’t bank on stifling Saiz like that again.
Saiz scored 23 points with 10 rebounds against Mississippi State the game after Arkansas and closed the SEC season with 21 points and 15 boards when the Rebels upset South Carolina, 75-70.
Meanwhile Mizzou only went 2-16 in the SEC but one of its 2 was an 83-78 stunner in Columbia, Mo. over the Razorbacks despite Arkansas trouncing the Tigers, 92-73 earlier in the season at Walton.
Obviously from its Auburn performance Mizzou froths with emotion playing for Kim Anderson, whom Mike Anderson, himself a former Missouri head coach calls a “good coach and friend.”
While still in Fayetteville before Tuesday’s practice and Wednesday’s departure to Nashville, Anderson discussed all three teams, with Auburn now SEC Tournament irrelevant, that could be Arkansas’ Friday night opponent.
“Ole Miss … they had South Carolina down by 20,” Anderson said. “So of course Ole Miss is playing a whole lot better. “And of course Missouri, Kim just got dismissed. So there is some adversity there. So you never know when adversity comes sometimes teams step up to the plate. Of course Missouri beat us. So there it is.”
In Columbia, Tigers Jordan Barnett, KJ Walton, Puryear and Cullen Vanleer scored 17, 16, 15, and 12 on the Hogs.
Against Auburn Wednesday, Puryear scored 30 and Vanleer scored 15 on five threes while Mizzou guard Jordan Geist scored 14 points and dished seven assists.
Ole Miss will be one game tired and Mizzou two games tired depending on which plays the Hogs but they certainly won’t be rusty or suffering first-game tournament nerves which is an Arkansas concern with five, junior college transfers Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon and Arlando Cook, previously redshirted University of Colorado transfer Dustin Thomas, and freshman Adrio Bailey, in Anderson’s Razorbacks rotation never previously playing in an SEC Tournament.
“In a tournament setting each game is going to have its own characteristic,” Anderson said. “We’ve just got to continue to be who we are. That is a team that’s striving to get better, striving to get better defensively and offensively. That first game is the most critical game.”
Guard Barford, 13 and 23 points, and Macon, 17 and 15 points, were hard for Mizzou to handle in Fayetteville and Columbia.
Macon scored a career high 30 on Ole Miss while Barford scored 15 while junior guard Anton Beard tallied 11 points and four assists.
In Saturday’s semifinals, the winner of Arkansas vs. Ole Miss or Arkansas vs. Auburn plays the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinals against Florida, granted a double-bye as second to SEC champion Kentucky, and Thursday game between seventh-seeded Vanderbilt and 10th-seeded Texas A&M.
The other side of the bracket today features Kentucky against Thursday’s winner between Tennessee and Georgia, and fourth-seed South Carolina against Thursday night’s winner between Alabama and Mississippi State, a Wednesday 12th seed winner over 13th-seed LSU.