Last night, the Rebels took the next step in finishing the season strong by beating the previously 14-7 Arkansas Razorbacks by nine. The game was only truly in question for a few minutes of the second half, when Arkansas overcame an eleven point deficit to go up by two. It was the only lead the Razorbacks would have all night. Soon afterwards, the Rebels had stretched their lead to thirteen, and that was it.
Reggie Buckner was astonishing, scoring eleven points and tallying twelve rebounds with eight blocks. Two more blocks would have obviously given him a triple double, but I think we can be satisfied with his line. Buckner is quickly becoming what we expected him to be this season. He's a game changer, and he's not having as much trouble with fouls. I know he picked up four yesterday, but I heavily dispute two of those calls and even if that weren't the case, with as much as Arkansas was trying to attack the basket, four fouls in comparison to eight blocks and a litany of altered shots is wonderful. If Buckner keeps playing like this, we really could see ourselves in a bubble situation in March. For those who were unable to watch, there was a time late in the game when the Rebels had the ball coming in from out of bounds with one second left on the shot clock. After trying to get it to Warren, the last look was to Buckner at the three point line. He caught the ball and put it up before the shot clock had expired. I laughed, but then the ball went in. Certainly we don't want to see that look very often, but it really put the game away for the Rebels. He just played like a winner last night. Buckner has begun to put effort in offensively as much as defensively, and it's paying off huge for him.
Buckner's counterpart of Terrance Henry was also quite good, and he avoided foul trouble (which is imperative for those two). Henry traveled at least twice, which was disheartening, but he also played solid defensively and continues to be an integral part of our ball movement. A 6'9" player who can help break the press is a solid asset for any team, and Henry fits that role. Several times last night, he brought the ball past half court, and once that has occurred, the press is finished. Henry's ability to play at beyond the arc also opens up lanes underneath of which Zach Graham, Chris Warren, and Nick Williams took advantage.
Chris Warren didn't shoot well, going four of eleven, but he was 10-10 from the free throw line and handled the ball with authority all game. He also drove to the basket well, something he has seemingly been working on lately. We saw him use speed to get by his defender several times against Kentucky, and that continued against Arkansas. He continues to struggle on defense, allowing slower players to blow past him. If he could miraculously overcome that, we would be able to stop 8-10 more points per game and wouldn't have nearly as much of an issue with our bigs and fouls.
Zach Graham continued to build on a strong senior campaign with seventeen points and eight rebounds. We're going to miss him after this year, because there's not a guard on roster who can drive and dish as well as Graham. Coupling that ability with strong defense, Graham is a difference maker. He did miss the front end of an important one-and-one, but that just happens sometimes.
The last starter was Nick Williams. Williams played better than he has recently, but he's still not making much of an impact in games. Right now, he's a poor man's Zach Graham. He and Trevor Gaskins are essentially interchangeable in terms of impact (though they're quite different players).
Steadman Short gave Terrance Henry and Reggie Buckner thirteen minutes of bench time before fouling out. I was actually listening on the radio during most of Short's time on the court, so I don't know anything about whether his fouls were caused by being out of position or simply too aggressive.
The freshmen, Dundrecous Nelson and Demarco Cox got six minutes total with five going to Nelson. Dundrecous' only shot attempt was blocked, and Demarco Cox was horrible defensively during his minute on the court. The one thing that stuck out about Cox was when he allowed the forward he was guarding to leave him at the three point line and attempted to steal the ball from a guard who was already being defended. The guard (I don't remember who it was) proceeded to toss up an alley-oop to the player Cox had let go. Immediately, Kennedy sent Short in for Cox, and that was it for Demarco's day.
Overall, the Rebels outrebounded the Razorbacks 38 to 24 and posted twelve blocks. It was a solid day that was only close because of the sheer number of free throws Arkansas was able to shoot (30). The Rebels held Rotnei Clarke to ten points, a testament to our perimeter defense aside from Warren.