By Kevin McPherson

Arkansas has banked real SEC momentum at the mid-point of league play as the Razorbacks picked up their second-best win of the season (based on NCAA NET rankings) by defeating travel-weary, but road-worthy, Texas A&M, 81-70, on Tuesday at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Junior guards Davonte “Devo” Davis and Ricky Council IV each scored 19 points, and on his birthday senior center Makhel Mitchell started and came within reasonable range of registering a triple-double — 9 points, 13 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 1 steal in 32 minutes — as the Hoop Hogs limited the Aggies to 2-of-14 field goal shooting in the final 3:28 while expanding a four-point lead with a 13-6 run to close things out for the final 11-point winning margin.

Arkansas’ block party — 13 swats in all — helped offset significant turnover struggles (17 compared to A&M’s 8], and the Hogs dominated transition scoring (21-10) and bench scoring (17-0) while enjoying a rare second half of shooting more free throws than their opponent (10-of-17 for 58.8% compared to A&M’s 7-of-12 for 58.3%). Arkansas finished the game 19-of-28 on free throws (67.9%) while A&M shot 14-of-24 (58.3%). For the second straight game, the Razorbacks shot at least 50% from the field (28-of-56 for 50%) on 16 assists while simultaneously holding their opponent to below 35% shooting from the field (the Aggies were 26-of-76 for 34.2%). Arkansas also won the three-point shooting battle (6-of-18 for 33.3% for a second consecutive game compared to A&M’s 4-of-12 for 33.3%).

The Razorbacks (15-7, 4-5 SEC) have won three consecutive league games by double-digit margins — sandwiched around Saturday’s 67-64 loss at then-No. 17 Baylor in the final Big 12/SEC Challenge — to go from a 1-5 SEC-cellar-dwelling start to just one game below .500 as the team turns the page to the second half of league play.

The Hogs’ average margin of victory in those three straight league wins (all at home) — Texas A&M, LSU, and Ole Miss — is 14.3 points.

Arkansas improved to 11-1 in home games on the season (the Hogs are 0-5 in true road games as part of a 4-6 record in all games played away from BWA).

Texas A&M (15-7, 7-2 SEC) was significantly delayed getting into Fayetteville due to inclement weather as the Aggies’ flight reportedly was diverted from Fayetteville to Wichita, Kan., on Monday with the team busing to Tulsa later the same day before busing from Tulsa to Fayetteville earlier on Tuesday. The Aggies slipped to 3-2 on the road in SEC play.

“Give our guys a lot of credit,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “We’re still tinkering with some of our defensive schemes. Tonight the blocked shots were really big between the two Mitchell twins … Changing the starting lineup, I don’t know what we’re going to do for Saturday. Maybe we continue to kind of alter based on who we play against or maybe we’ll eventually settle into a starting lineup. I’m not sure.”

In addition to their big scoring outputs, Davis (4 assists, 1 rebound, and 1 steal) and Council (6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block) made other important contributions, as did freshmen Anthony Black (11 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals) and Jordan Walsh (12 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal). Senior forward / center Makhi Mitchell started and had 6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 steal in 15 minutes. Senior forward Jalen Graham had 5 points and 2 blocks in 12 minutes off the bench. Walsh and Graham were the only reserves to play for the Hogs as Musselman kept his rotation strictly to a top 7.

Davis’ 4-of-8 on three-pointers against the Aggies contributed to his collective 16-of-35 shooting from 3 (45.7%) spanning the Hogs’ last seven games. The Jacksonville native has averaged 16.4 points per game in those seven games.

Arkansas and A&M battled to a draw in points-in-the-paint (38-all), and though the Aggies were plus-11 in offensive rebounds (24-13) they were only plus-4 in second-chance-points (19-15). A&M used the aforementioned plus-9 advantage in turnovers (17-8) for a plus-8 edge in points-off-turnovers (16-8).

A&M’s starting five provided all of the team’s scoring with three players in double-figures as junior big man Henry Coleman III led the way with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Guards Wade Taylor IV (18 points) and Tyrece Radford (17 points) had matching 6-of-19 field goal shooting nights, and the Aggies fell well below their free throw shooting efficiency on the season (74.5% coming in, only 58.3% against the Hogs).

“I thought our defense against Baylor was as good as any defense that we’ve played since I’ve been here, I thought tonight we did the same,” Musselman said. “That was a really, really emotional, difficult loss in Waco. It really was. We fought hard. We were emotionally ready to play the game, mentally ready, physically ready to play the game. And then practice the last couple days has been unique in the fact that Jalen Graham, his Achilles is bothering him. He didn’t practice one day. Anthony Black did not practice. Anthony banged knees (in Baylor game guess he means) and has a pretty significant contusion. We weren’t sure leading up to the game if he would play, and he played 37 minutes and 43 seconds. Then we all know Makhel’s been battling and playing on what I would consider still a very tender and very sore ankle.

“But these guys are fighting through injuries. It’s been pretty impressive to me. Especially Anthony not being able to get many reps between now and our Baylor game. He was in at 10 o’clock last night getting rehab. So the respect that I have for those guys fighting through stuff. Ricky’s never complained and fought through a really bad back for a three-game segment as well. Guys are playing hard. The locker room tonight was as good as it’s been postgame in a long, long time. There was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of happiness for how Makhel played. I hope we’re gaining confidence as well.”

The win over the Aggies (NET No. 43) counts as a Quad-2 result. Based on the current NCAA NET rankings, Arkansas (NET No. 28) is 1-5 in Q1 games that factor into their postseason resume (win over San Diego State in a neutral-site game, and losses to Baylor on the road, Missouri on the road, Alabama at home, Auburn on the road, and Creighton at a neutral site). The Hogs are 3-1 in Q2 games (home wins over Texas A&M and Missouri, a neutral-site win over Oklahoma, and a road loss to Vanderbilt), and they are 11-1 in Q3/4 games.

Arkansas improved to 106-59 all-time against Texas A&M as the Razorbacks have won two of the last three meetings in the series going back to last season.

Musselman improved to 4-4 as Head Hog coaching against Texas A&M. He’s 88-35 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 40-27 record against SEC teams and a 6-2 mark spanning the last two NCAA Tournaments that culminated in back-to-back Elite Eight runs and back-to-back final national Top 10 rankings.

Next up for the Hoop Hogs is another SEC road game against South Carolina on Saturday.

Musselman started the combination of Council, Black, Davis, Makhel Mitchell, and Makhi Mitchell.

Davis’ first three-point basket came from 30-feet out to break a 10-all tie and spark a 7-2 Arkansas spurt that put the Hogs ahead, 19-12. Walsh’ tip-in was the start of a 7-1 Arkansas run that gave the Hogs their biggest lead of the first half, 31-21, with 5:03 to go before the break.

From there, the Razorback would make 6-of-6 free throws, Davis would knock down a wide-open look for his second triple of the game, and Blacks tip-in just before the horn sent Arkansas into halftime leading 42-34.

Council led the Hogs with 11 points in the first 20 minutes.

Arkansas shot a hearty 15-of-26 from the field in the first half (57.7%), including 3-of-9 from 3 (33.3%), and 9-of-11 at the free throw line (81.8%). The Aggies were 13-of-38 on field goal shooting (34.2%), including 1-of-4 from 3 (25%), and 7-of-12 at the foul line (58.3%).

The Hogs were plus-2 on the first-half glass (20-18), but they were minus-6 in offensive rebounds (12-6) although the Aggies managed to convert the extra chances into only a plus-2 advantage in second-chance-points (10-8). Arkansas was minus-6 in turnovers (8-2) for a minus-5 in points-off-turnovers (7-2).