Junior guard JD Notae was named the SEC’s Sixth man of the Year on Tuesday, a designation he backed up on Friday as he came off the bench for 27 points to help No. 8 Arkansas overcome a 10-point deficit for a scrap-in-the-mud, 70-64 win over the Missouri Tigers in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn., as the Hogs advanced to the SECT semifinals on Saturday while stretching their winning streak against league teams to 12 games.
In a matchup that saw a combined 18 offensive fouls as part of a combined 41 turnovers between the two teams, Notae scored 15 of his points in the first half when Arkansas flipped a 10-point deficit to get back into the game, then after Mizzou chopped the Hogs’ late 10-point lead down to 3 with 1:48 left, it was Notae’s bank shot in the lane with the shot clock expiring that put the Hogs up by two possessions for good, 65-60, at the 1:19 mark. Notae was 9-of-16 shooting from the field, including 4-of-7 from 3, and 5-of-6 from the free throw line for his game-high 27 points — which is now the Arkansas record for bench scoring by a single player in the SECT — to go with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in 32 minutes.
Senior forward Justin Smith chipped in 16 points (including some timely putbacks in the second half), a team-high-matching 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block before fouling out with 1:48 to play. Freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal, and though leading scorer and SEC Freshman of the Year Moses Moody had an off night offensively (only 5 points), he did finish with a team-high-matching 8 rebounds, 4 drawn charges, and 1 block, and it was his putback-and-1 that gave Arkansas the lead for good at 50-49 while starting an overall 16-4 run that pushed the Hogs to their biggest lead at 63-53 with 2:40 to play. Junior reserve forward Ethan Henderson came off the bench to give the Razorbacks 4 points (on two dunks) and 2 blocked shots while playing sound interior defense.
The No. 2 seed in the SECT, Arkansas (22-5, 14-4 in SEC games, NCAA NET No. 15 entering Friday) has matched the 1993-94 national championship Razorbacks’ 12-game league winning streak that also bridged their last 11 games of regular-season SEC play into their first game in the SECT. With one more win in this SECT on Saturday — Arkansas will play Friday night’s LSU-Ole Miss winner — the ’20-21 Hogs would set a new program standard for consecutive wins against league teams.
The Hogs improved to 17-0 when holding an opponent to 75 or fewer points in a game this season, and they also moved to 6-4 in away games in ’20-21 (includes a 5-4 record in true road games). Arkansas last lost a game on Jan. 30 — an 81-77 road defeat against Oklahoma State in the SEC / Big 12 Challenge — which was sandwiched in between the current 12-game league winning streak. The last time the Razorbacks lost an SEC game was on Jan. 16 on the road against Alabama, dropping the team to 2-4 in the league at the time.
Arkansas has won two consecutive matchups against SECT 7th-seeded Missouri (16-9, 9-9 in SEC games, NCAA NET No. 43 entering Friday) as the Hogs claimed the season series 2-1. Each team won on the other’s home court during the regular season when a starter was missing from the losing team’s lineup (Arkansas’ Smith missed the first meeting, and Mizzou big man Jeremiah Tilmon missed the second, but both players were on hand Friday as both teams had all of their starters available and on the court.
In his second campaign as Head Hog, Eric Musselman improved to 2-0 coaching Arkansas in the SECT and 6-0 while coaching a ranked Arkansas team, 22-15 in SEC games, 42-17 overall at Arkansas, and he improved his record to 3-2 coaching head-to-head against Mizzou’s Cuonzo Martin in SEC play.
“Obviously, JD was phenomenal,” Musselman said during his postgame interview with the SEC Network. “Mizzou’s a really good defensive team. We didn’t get enough shots on goal, we turned the ball over way too much tonight. But JD, he carried us offensively. he’s a shot creator. He got so hot in that first half, and then he did a good job closing for us as well. We played a little bit uncharacteristic tonight with the turnovers, but I thought the effort in the second half was phenomenal.
“It’s just so hard to win this many games in a row. We’re riding some momentum … We have to understand from here on out we’ve got to play for 40 minutes. We can’t turn it off and on like a light switch. We discussed that pretty seriously at halftime tonight.”
The game started as physically demanding and turnover-ugly as the first matchup in Fayetteville on Jan. 2 when the Tigers won by 13 points, but on Friday it was the Razorbacks who scored the biggest body blows — most coming in the second half — on their way to victory. Arkansas was minus-4 in rebounding at halftime before banging away for a plus-9 advantage on the glass in the final 20 minutes to claim the overall edge on the boards (36-31). The Hogs finished plus-1 in turnovers (21-20), plus-6 in points-off-turnovers (26-20), and plus-6 in second-chance-points (10-4) while doubling up the Tigers in bench scoring (34-17). Mizzou, which defeated Georgia (73-70) on Thursday in the SECT second round, won fastbreak points (8-0). Both teams scored 30 points in the paint.
Arkansas’ defense was also better in the second half, holding Mizzou to 37% field goal shooting in the final 20 minutes as part of an overall 22-of-52 Tigers’ effort from the field (42.3%), including 6-of-18 fom 3 (33.3%). Missouri made 14-of-21 free throws (66.7%). The Hogs finished 25-of-55 from the field (45.5%), including 5-of-15 from 3 (33.3%), while making 15-of-22 from the free throw line (68.2%). The Hogs were 5-of-8 at the line in the final minute as they did just enough to maintain their two-possession lead.
Tilmon, who recorded 25 points and 11 rebounds in Mizzou’s 81-68 win over the Hogs before he missed the second meeting that resulted in an 86-81 overtime road win for Arkansas, finished with only 9 points and he did not record a rebound in 26 minutes before foulng out with 5:26 to play. Junior guard Xavier Pinson, who scored 23 points in each of the first two games against the Razorbacks, was limited to a team-high 14 points on Friday. Senior guard Dru Smith chipped in 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals.
“Just being patient, just taking what the defense gave me,” Notae said of his scoring success before turning to his defensive effort. “If we want to win, we’ve got to guard. Pinson killed us both games (in the regular season). He had 23 points in each game. I just tried my best to stay in front of him.”
Musselman went with the same starting lineup for the 9th consecutive game — Moody, Davis, Smith, sophomore stretch-5 Connor Vanover, and senior combo guard Jalen Tate.
Mizzou’s physical, attacking brand of basketball bothered the Hogs early as the Tigers used a 13-4 run to build a 23-13 lead, but Notae poured in an offensive onslaught for Arkansas by sandwiching 6 points (a dunk followed by two pull-up jumpers) and another 6-points (on two deep three-pointers) around a Davis score and a dunk by Henderson as the Hogs used a 16-0 run to take a 29-23 lead late in the first 20 minutes.
But the Tigers went inside to Tilmon on multiple late possessions to string together a 10-3 run to close the half with a 33-32 lead.
Notae led the Hogs with 15 first-half points (6-of-8 field goals, including 3-of-4 from 3, and 1-of-2 free throws), 3 rebounds, and 2 assists (both setting up dunks for Henderson, who was the Hogs’ second-leading scorer in the first half with 4 points).
Arkansas was 12-of-26 shooting from the field (46.2%), including 4-of-9 from 3 (44.4%), and 4-of-6 from the free throw line (66.7%) while Mizzou was 12-of-25 (48.0%), including 3-of-6 from 3 (50%), and 6-of-9 from the free throw line (66.7%).
The Tigers won the first-half rebounding battle (17-13) and points-in-the-paint (16-10) while the Hogs won the turnover battle (11-9) and points-off-turnovers (14-10). Mizzou also won fast-break points (6-0) but Arkansas won bench points (23-8). Neither team scored a second-chance point as the Tigers collected only 2 offensive rebounds while the Razorbacks had none.