With a second-place finish in the SEC already in the bag along with the accompanying 2-seed in the league’s fast-approaching postseason tournament, the 12th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks finally got their shot at Texas A&M but had to come from behind for an 87-80 win Saturday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. In doing so, the Hogs have won 11 straight regular-season SEC games for only the second time in school history and they enter postseason play just one win away from matching the program’s best consecutive-SEC-games winning streak (includes postseason victories) that was established 27 years ago.
Freshman guard Moses Moody matched his career-high of 28 points for the second-consecutive outing, and his three-point basket with 56 seconds left in the game put Arkansas up for good, 79-78, as the Hogs would close things out on an 11-2 run for their 7-point margin of victory.
Arkansas (21-5, 13-4 SEC, NCAA NET No. 12 entering Saturday) matched the 1993-94 national championship Razorbacks’ 11-game league winning streak to finish a regular season, and with a win on Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament these Hogs can match the title Hogs with an overall 12-game winning streak against SEC competition. If they win two games next week in the SECT, the ’20-21 Hogs will set a new program standard for consecutive wins against SEC teams. For now, the Razorbacks can take a moment to celebrate their string of wins as well as the program’s second-best SEC regular-season record by percentage (’93-94 is tops at 14-2), its tie for second-fewest regular-season SEC losses (’94-95 finished 12-4), and its tie for second-most regular-season SEC wins (’14-15 finished 13-5).
The Hogs finished with a 16-1 home record on Nolan Richardson Court at BWA in ’20-21. 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 11-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.
“We didn’t play a very good first half,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “We outscored A&M by 10 in that second half. I’m proud that we won a game that we did not play well. To win this many games in a row, there’s a reason that a lot of teams don’t do it because it’s really hard. And so that’s why there’s not a lot of 10-game winning streaks happening, because it becomes a grind after 6 or 7 games, mentally and physically.
“Look, we know that the SEC tournament’s coming up, we understand the NCAA tournament’s coming up, so that’s what we’re onto now.”
Moody succinctly summed up the historical significance of Saturday’s comeback victory.
“I guess we’re in elite company now,” Moody said of his Hogs matching the ’93-94 national championship team’s 11-game SEC winning streak to end its regular season.
Arkansas had two previous home-and-away matchups scheduled for February against Texas A&M (8-9, 2-8 SEC, NCAA NET No. 146 entering Saturday) postponed, and with the SEC having determined before the season began that March 6-7 would provide one-game-only make-up opportunities for each league team, the league last week made the game-assignment decisions and sent the Aggies to Fayetteville to make up the teams’ first scheduled matchup that was postponed.
In a season that saw several SEC teams have multiple games ultimately canceled due to the covid-19 pandemic, Arkansas missed out on only one game (a road matchup against A&M) while playing each of the 13 teams in the league and defeating all but one (Tennessee).
In his second season as Head Hog, Musselman improved to 5-0 while coaching a ranked Arkansas team, 21-15 in SEC games, 41-17 overall at Arkansas, and he improved his record to 2-1 coaching head-to-head against A&M’s Buzz Williams in SEC play. Musselman has surpassed his 20-win campaign in year one at Arkansas in ’19-20, and now he has 151 total wins in his 6 seasons as a Division 1 head coach.
Moody — he has scored 20-plus points in 3 of the last 4 games and a total of 8 times on the season — was 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including 5-of-8 from 3, and 5-of-6 from the free throw line for his 28 points to go with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block (the rejection came at the 1:30 mark to prevent a dunk attempt by A&M with the game tied at 76-all). Senior combo guard Jalen Tate bounced back from two consecutive poor performances to notch 22 points, a team-high 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. Freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis came up big, too, with 12 points, 6 rebounds, a game-high 5 assists, and 2 steals (both coming in the ginal 47 seconds to help seal the win). Senior combo forward Justin Smith had 11 points and 4 rebounds, while junior guard JD Notae had 9 points (including 4-of-4 free throws in the closing seconds to ice the win), 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists. Sophomore Connor Vanover contributed 5 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal.
Arkansas trailed by as many as 14 points (35-21 in the first half) but fought back through the back end of the first 20 minutes and for most of the second half to take a 3-point lead, 67-64, at the 7:15 mark. But the Aggies struck back with a 7-2 run to go back up, 71-69, with 4:58 to play. The Hogs answered with a 5-0 spurt that was capped by a Moody putback on a missed free throw by Smith for a 74-71 Arkansas lead with 3:28 remaining. Then, the Aggies responded with a 7-2 run that was culminated by a putback by Savion Flagg to give A&M a 78-76 advantage with 1:13 to play.
But it was all Arkansas from there as Moody cashed in his triple from the right wing at 0:56 to give the Razorbacks the lead for good at 79-78 while sparking the final 11-2 Hogs’ run. Following an A&M timeout with 48 seconds to play, Davis forced a steal on the inbounds pass and assisted ahead to Smith for a dunk to expand the Arkansas lead to 81-78. Notae rebounded a missed three-point attempt by the Aggies’ Quenton Jackson, was fouled, and made both free throws to push the Hogs’ lead to 83-78 at the 0:25 mark. A&M would get two free throws from sophomore forward forward Emanuel Miller to close within one possession again, 83-80, at 0:14, but Notae was fouled after receiving the Hogs’ ensuing inbounds pass, he made both free throws, and the lead was back to 5 points, 85-80, with 13 seconds remaining. Davis gobbled up another steal after that and soared in for an exclamation-point dunk as the Hogs’ achieved another second-half comeback victory.
Arkansas was minus-1 in rebounding (31-30) but plus-1 in second-chance points (16-15), and the Hogs won the turnover (17-11) and points-off-turnover battles (18-15). The Razorbacks were also plus-4 in points-in-the-paint (36-32). Both teams shot 31-of-61 from the field (50.8%), but the Aggies were just a little better from 3 (10-of-23 for 43.5% compared to the Hogs’ 9-of-24 for 37.5%). Arkansas made 16-of-20 from the free throw line (80%) while A&M made 8-of-10 (also 80%).
Jackson and Miller each scored 23 points (Miller also had 10 rebounds) for the Aggies, and Flagg tallied 16 points.
Musselman went with the same starting lineup for the 8th consecutive game — Moody, Davis, Vanover, Smith, and Jalen Tate.
A&M used a 6-0 spurt to jump out to an 8-4 lad, but Arkansas put together an 8-0 run keyed by Moody’s three-pointer and dunk to give the Hogs a 17-13 lead. But the Aggies dominated the play for the next several minutes by outscoring the Hogs 22-4 to take a 35-21 lead.
That’s when Moody and Tate scored all the points in the Razorbacks’ 17-6 run to close the first half to pull within 41-38 at the break.
The Hogs struggled most of the half against the Aggies’ zone defense but settled down to shoot 13-of-31 from the field (41.9%), including 5-of-16 from 3 (31.3%), and 7-of-8 at the free throw line (87.5%). On the other end, A&M started hot before colling down a bit to finish the first 20 minutes 16-of-33 shooting (48.5%), including 7-of-15 from 3 (46.7%), and 2-of-2 from the free thows line. The Aggies were plus-1 on the glass (17-16) and both teams had 6 turnovers heading into the break.
Moody led the Hogs with 15 first-half points followed by Tate’s 14.