Arkansas Set for Ole Miss

By Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – If the red-hot Razorbacks needed reminding that SEC under .500  Ole Miss could cool them into a defeat tonight in Oxford, Miss., they got it Monday night.

At the same Sandy and John Black Pavilion where the  Rebels, 10-9 overall/ 2-5 in the SEC,  host Arkansas, 14-5, 4-3 in the SEC in tonight’s 6 p.m. SEC game on the SEC Network, Ole Miss Monday night flogged Florida, 70-54.

Ole Miss and Florida were supposed to open their SEC campaigns on Dec. 29 against each other. It was postponed  because of covid issues within the Florida Gators program.

The Gators, 12-7, 3-3 in the SEC, had won three consecutive SEC games over South Carolina, drubbed by Arkansas last week, and the Mississippi State and Vanderbilt teams that earlier beat Arkansas.

Guard Jarkell Joiner, Ole Miss’ leading scorer averaging 13.6 points but missing the last six games with a back injury continuing to sideline him, obviously missed the Florida game.

Coach Kermit Davis’ Rebels didn’t miss him thanks to Ole Miss guards Daeshun Ruffin, a 5-9 freshman,  and 6-4 sophomore Matthew Murrell.  They scored 21 and 20 points including Murrell’s 3 of 6 3-pointers.

At his Monday afternoon press conference Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman advanced warnings regarding Ruffin and Murrell before they flattened Florida Monday night.

Obviously Ruffin is a dynamic freshman who has great speed,” Musselman said.  “Changes the pace of the game, can get in the teeth of the defense, has great vision. And then Matthew Murrell at the off-guard spot shooting the ball at a high, high clip from three.  Also doing a good job putting it on the deck.  Both of those guys are really a dynamic backcourt together. “

Ruffin and Murrell respectively average  11.9 and 10.4 points per game.

Ole Miss leading rebounders Nysier Brooks, a 7-foot graduate transfer via the University of Miami,  Luis Rodriguez, a 6-6 2-year letterman,  and 6-8  Duke transfer  Jaemyn Brakefield average  8.0, 4.8 and 4.2 rebounds per game.  Tye Fagan, a 6-3 transfer guard via the University of Georgia,  plays considerably off the Ole Miss bench.

“Rodriguez and  Fagan, both those guys play hard,” Musselman said.  “Obviously Brooks inside, has done a great job offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding, blocking shots as well.  And then Brakefield is a lefty who’s multi-dimensional at his size can play multiple positions.  It’s a team that changes up its defenses as well.”

Musselman said he’ll continue starting the big lineup, 6-10 center Jaylin Williams, 6-6 forwards Au’Diese Toney, moved to off-guard in this alignment, Stanley Umude and Trey Wade with combo become scoring point guard JD Notae, spelled off the bench by Devo Davis and Chris Lykes.

Up front Arkansas’ bench gets bigger this week.

Kamani Johnson, the 6-7, 235 power forward transfer via the University of Arkansas-Little Rock,  was logging considerably increased playing time until felled by a sprained ankle. It sidelined him two games entirely and for just a cameo with the Hogs in second-half foul trouble  during last Saturday’s 76-73 overtime SEC success over Texas A&M at Walton Arena.

He was at about 70% last game,” Musselman said.  “We were only going to really use him if it was a need and something that we desperately had to have.”

Musselman was asked Monday, what’s Johnson’s availability against Ole Miss?

“He’s probably looking at it being right around 90 to 95% as we look into Wednesday’s game in Oxford,” Musselman said.  “What his role will be will depend on the guys that are in front of him right now, and what the team needs on that given night. But he will be completely available and ready to play without a minute’s restriction or anything come Wednesday.”Before he got hurt, we were obviously really excited with how he had been playing.”

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