By Kevin McPherson

For the ninth time in their first 10 games of the season, the 9th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks had to make do without one of their star players. And once again, the Hoop Hogs were up to the task while also exacting a measure of revenge as they out-shot and out-worked unranked Oklahoma, 88-78, on Saturday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, avenging last season’s 22-point loss against the Sooners at the same neutral-site venue.

Playing their first game entirely without star forward Trevon Brazile — lost for the season with a knee injury suffered early in Tuesday’s home win over North Carolina-Greensboro — the Razorbacks flipped a 9-point first-half deficit into a 10-point win by dominating the turnover battle (15-9) and points-off-turnovers (17-10) while owning the paint scoring (58-44) and winning overall field goal shooting efficiency (35-of-59 for 59.3% for Arkansas compared to 32-of-56 for 57.1% for Oklahoma). The Hogs also doubled up the Sooners in scoring at the foul line (14-of-19 free throws for 73.7% compared to OU’s 7-of-9 for 77.8%).

Arkansas (9-1) — winner of five consecutive games — finished with 10 steals and 5 blocks compared to Oklahoma’s 5 thefts and 1 eraser. That lopsided advantage in blue-collar hustle plays began taking a toll on the Sooners, who led 21-12 early in the game and at one point had made eight consecutive shots as part of a 13-of-17 effort from the field (76.5%) before the Razorbacks dug in defensively while authoring their own master-class on offense. Arkansas willed its way to a 3-point lead at the break (43-40), and it owned the second half with frequent double-digit leads that ballooned to a 16-point edge, 71-55, on a Nick Smith, Jr., bucket in the paint with 8:38 remaining.

“Just happy,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said of his team rising to the challenge in its first game without Brazile. “We changed our schedule. Usually we practice at home then we travel. That’s been the way that we’ve done it since I’ve been at Arkansas. We did not do that. We left at noon yesterday and decided to practice here without having a practice at home so they could get a little bit more rest rather than getting in at 10 in the morning and trying to practice and come here. Thursday was really kind of our only real prep day. When you ride a bus two hours and you come straight here, you’re not going to do a whole lot besides mental reps.

“In a one-day practice, I thought we did a really good job against a really good team, against a team that’s really well-coached, against a team that’s got an explosive, explosive scorer in (senior transfer guard) Grant) Sherfield. That’s a really good team in Oklahoma, and they’re really well coached, as well.”

Leading scorer and junior combo guard Ricky Council IV once again led the way for Arkansas with 26 points (10-of-15 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 5-of-7 free throws) to go with 5 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal while playing all 40 minutes. It was quite a bounce-back game for Council, who made only 1-of-7 field goals whle scoring a season-low 8 points in the team’s 65-58 home win over UNCG on Tuesday.

Freshman guard Smith added 21 points (8-of-16 field goals, including 1-of-5 from 3, and 4-of-4 free throws), 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, and 1 block in 29 minutes. It was Smith’s second-consecutive 20-plus-point scoring game as he’s averaging 19.7 points since joining the starting lineup three games ago after playing only once (six minutes) through the first seven games of the season.

“Obviously those guys got high-volume field goals attempted, but I thought their shot selection was really good,” Musselman said. “We went to a little bit more isolation, a little bit more matchup stuff than maybe we have in some other games. I thought both those guys were phenomenal offensively.”

Freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh picked up production and impact slack with Brazile out as he had 12 points (5-of-9 field goals, including 2-of-5 from 3), 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, and 1 block in 31 minutes. Senior forwrd / center Makhi Mitchell coninuted his frontcourt excellence at both ends of the floor, tallying 10 points (5-of-8 field goals), a team-high 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal in 22 minutes. Freshman guard Anthony Black once again pitched a gem of an all-around game — 8 points (4-of-4 field goals), a team-high-matching 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in 36 minutes. Junior guard Devo Davis and senior forward Kamani Johnson combined for 10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steeals, and 1 block in a collective 40 minutes of playing time.

“It felt good,” Walsh said after the game. “Obviously it’s never good when you lose a friend and a teammate, but the win felt good. Before the game we talked about how we were going to play the rest of the season for TB (Brazile). Everything is dedicated to him, because he won’t be with us. We all miss him.”

Musselman was pleased with Walsh’s performance.

“I thought Jordan was phenomenal tonight, I really did, Musselman said. “I thought feet-set threes, really good for us. Offensive rebounding with aggressiveness. I thought he was really good defensively keeping the ball in front and contesting threes. So, I thought it was Jordan’s best game thus far and hopefully he continues to grow as a player. I think he felt really comfortable out there today, too.”

The Hogs narrowly lost the rebounding battle against the Sooners (27-25), but they did win second-chance-points (11-8) as well as fast-break points (14-12). OU made 7-of-15 from 3 (46.7%) while limiting Arkansas to 4-of-12 from distance (33.3%).

OU’s leading scorer coming in, Sherfield started strong and finished well as he poured in 23 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals. Freshman guard Milos Uzan scored 15 points, and veteran wing Jalen Hill was productive once again playing Arkansas as he finished with 11 points for a second consecutive season against the Hogs.

Arkansas will once again play away from its home of Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville in its next game when it meets Bradley next Saturday at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock (3 p.m. CT, no TV or livestream).

With their win over the Sooners (7-3), the Hoop Hogs improved to 3-1 in neutral-site games on the season to go with a 6-0 mark in home games. Both teams entered Saturday’s game ranked in the NCAAT NET Top 50, which if that holds up till the end of the season for Oklahoma it would count as a Quad-1 win for Arkansas. The Razorbacks were 0-1 in Q1 games coming into Saturday.

Arkansas is now 17-13 all-time against Oklahoma, and Musselman as Head Hog improved to 1-1 against the Sooners and their head coach Porter Moser. Musselman also moved to 5-3 at Arkansas coaching against Big 12 competition (wins over TCU, Texas Tech, Kansas State, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, and losses against Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Oklahoma).

Musselman is now 82-29 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 46-7 mark against non-conference opponents. He has a 36-22 record against SEC teams and a 6-2 mark spanning two NCAA Tournaments that culminated in back-to-back Elite Eight runs and back-to-back final national Top 10 rankings.

For the third consecutive game, Musselman started Smith, Black, Council, Mitchell, and Walsh against Oklahoma on Saturday.

Mitchell (two layups), Walsh (triple and a blocked shot), and Smith (driving lefty layup) helped Arkansas to a 9-8 lead, but the hot-shooting Sooners took off from there in building a 9-point advantage, 21-12, at the 11:47 mark. As previously stated, Oklahoma had made eight consecutive field goals as it started the game 13-of-17 shooting from the field (76.5%), including 4-of-6 from 3 (66.7%) — a better pace than last season’s game that saw the Sooners shoot 55% from the field, including 59% from 3, in an 88-66 victory.

But on this Saturday, the Hogs began getting stops including forcing turnovers and blocking shots while Council got hot from all three scoring levels.

Council made three consecutive baskets for the Hogs as part of a 26-15 scoring advantage in the final 9:56 of the first half as Arkansas carried a 43-40 lead into the break.

Council had 17 first-half points (7-of-9 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3) and Smith had 10 points in the first 20 minutes.