If there’s a basketball version of skid row, that’s where the Arkansas Razorbacks find themselves after a heartbreaking 86-81 loss at Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station, Texas, as the Hogs lost for the 5th time in their last 6 games while getting off to their worst SEC start in 13 years.
The last time Arkansas (10-5, 0-3, NCAA NET No. 92 entering Saturday’s game) was winless through the first three games of league play was in 2008-09 during then-head coach John Pelphrey’s second season, which ended with the program’s worst final league mark ever at 2-14.
The Razorbacks fell to 2-4 away from home on the season, including 0-2 in true road games. Meanwhile, Texas A&M (13-2, 2-0 SEC, NCAA NET No. 59 entering Saturday’s game) has won 6 consecutive games and is a perfect 9-0 at home.
A&M flipped an 11-point deficit into a two-point lead at the break, and despite falling behind by a point early in the second half the Aggies responded quickly with a 16-0 run to build a 15-point lead, 56-41, that would eventually grow to their biggest cushion of the game — a 17-point advantage, 65-48 — at the midway point of the final 20 minutes.
The Razorbacks fought their way back valiantly in the late stages and got as close as a one-point deficit, 79-78, with 1:08 to play on a jumper by senior guard JD Notae.
But on the ensuing possession, Aggies senior guard Quenton Jackson drained a three-pointer with 0:34 showing on the game clock to extend A&M to an 82-78 lead. The teams traded 2-of-2 free throw trips over the next 20 seconds as A&M maintained a four-point lead, 84-80, with 14 seconds remaining.
Sophomore guard Devo Davis was fouled with 0:05 left, making the first free throw attempt and intentionally missing the second to give the Hogs a chance at an offensive rebound and quick putback or three-point shot attempt. But Davis was called for a lane-violation on the freebie attempt, which was followed by a three-quarters-court inbound pass over the Hogs’ pressing defense by A&M that resulted in a 2-of-2 foul line trip for the Aggies to ice the win.
“I find it interesting that last play — the long baseball pass — interesting if there was a travel or not,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman mused during his post-game radio interview. “But certainly the effort, we played really hard, especially the last 8 minutes.”
Arkansas is now 2-4 against teams ranked in the NCAA NET Top 100 (wins over Cincinnati and Kansas State, and losses against TA&M, Vandy, Mississippi State, and Oklahoma). Arkansas is 0-3 in Quad-1 games (includes the loss at TA&M), 2-1 in Q2 games, 2-1 in Q3 games, and 6-0 in Q4 games.
Musselman dropped to 55-24 overall leading Arkansas, which includes a 22-19 mark against SEC teams. His head-to-head record against A&M and Aggies head coach Buzz Williams slipped to 2-2.
Notae scored a game-high 33 points (11-of-23 field goals, including 5-of-8 from 3, and 4-of-7 free throws), serving as his top scoring mark as a Hog and his second 30-points-or-more game this season. But Notae also had a team-high 5 turnovers as collectively the Hogs lost the turnover battle (18-13) while also finishing minus-12 in points-off-turnovers (28-16) and minus-10 in fastbreak points (15-5).
In addition to winning the turnover and transition battles, the Aggies solved the Hogs’ man-to-man and zone defenses to shoot the ball extremely well in both halves, finishing 31-of-55 from the field (56.4%) which included a solid 8-of-19 effort from 3 (42.1%) by the SEC’s top three-point shooting team coming into the game. A&M struggled at the free throw line, making only 16-of-30 (53.3%), although its four consecutive makes in the closing seconds of the game proved to be timely execution at the foul line.
Conversely, Arkansas shot 27-of-66 from the field (40.9%), including 6-of-19 from 3 (31.6%). The Razorbacks did make 21-of-29 at the free throw line (72.4%), most of which was accomplished in the second half when they made 17-of-21 (81.0%). The Hogs dominated the glass (46-32), a plus-14 margin that was won on the offensive boards (20-6) leading to a plus-11 advantage in second-chance-points (20-9). Despite being so good in the blue-collar rebounding department, Arkansas finished minus-2 in points-in-the-paint (34-32).
A&M also won the bench scoring battle (34-21).
Sophomore forward Jaylin Williams recorded his first double-double as a Hog — 10 points (5-of-8 field goals), a game-high 11 rebounds, 3 drawn charges, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers. Davis finished with 13 points — he struggled shooting from the field, going 2-of-10 overall (including 0-of-4 from 3) — but he made 9-of-10 free throws and dished out a game-high 7 assists to go with 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers.
Senior combo forward Stanley Umude had 10 points (4-of-8 field goals, including 1-of-3 from 3, and 1-of-2 free throws), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block before fouling out at the 13:45 mark of the second half. Senior combo forward Au’Diese Toney had 9 points (4-of-11 field goals and 1-of-2 free throws) and 6 rebounds off the bench, and junior forward Kamani Johnson gave a spirited effort during the Hogs’ late comeback as he finished with 7 points (1-of-1 field goal and 5-of-6 free throws), 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block in 18 minutes off the bench.
Sophomore wing Jaxson Robinson made his third consecutive start playing against his previous team but missed his only two shot attempts while grabbing a rebound and blocking a shot in 8 minutes.
A&M was led by Jackson’s 16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Four more Aggies scored in double-figures — Duke transfer Henry Coleman III (14 points on 5-of-6 field goal shooting and 4-of-6 free throws to go with 9 rebounds); guard Andre Gordon (13 points on 5-of-5 field goal shooting, including 2-of-2 from 3, to go with 4 assists and 2 blocks); Virginia Tech transfer Tyrece Radford (12 points on 5-of-7 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3, to go with 5 rebounds and 2 assists); and freshman guard Wade Taylor IV (11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, 1 block).
Aggies senior forward Ethan Henderson, the Little Rock Parkview product who played his first three seasons at Arkansas before transferring in the offseason, started and had 4 points (2-of-4 field goals), 2 rebounds, and 1 block in 17 minutes.
“The turnovers,” Musselman lamented. “Jaylin had four, JD Notae five, and Devo four. We just can’t have that many careless turnovers, especially on the road. But the effort on the defensive backboards and offensive backboards, I thought we were really physical. Did a good job drawing free throws, but the turnovers (were) too much.
“What’s really tough is when your team for seven years has done a great job taking care of the basketball, and right now we’re way too careless with the basketball. We’re playing with good pace and good tempo — one of the faster teams in the country, in the top 20 (the Hogs’ were ranked 17th in Division 1 in pace coming into the game) — but along with that you’ve got to really value the ball. I don’t mind saying it, we have a goal of nine or less turnovers every game, and we doubled that up. And so, that’s a major, major problem.”
Next up for Arkansas is an SEC home game against Missouri at 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday (SEC Network) at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Musselman sent out a starting five of Notae, Williams, Umude, Robinson, and Toney.
Notae and Umude came out hot shooting the ball, scoring all the points as Arkansas outpointed A&M 20-9 in the first 6:40 of the game. The two seniors hit shots at all three levels while at both ends of the floor the Hogs were controlling the glass and preventing A&M’s league-best three-point shooting from getting un-tracked.
But the Hogs began to slip into some bad habits that were problematic in recent losses. Specifically, Arkansas began suffering unforced turnovers while taking low-percentage shots, and the Aggies made them pay by converting the live-ball giveaways into points while also getting to the free throw line and warming up from distance.
Trailing 24-14, A&M outscored Arkansas 23-11 to close the first half for a 37-35 Aggies lead at the break.
Even though the Hogs won the first-half rebounding battle (23-17, including 7-1 on the offensive glass), it only translated to a 5-2 edge in second-chance-points. The Aggies owned the turnover department (9-5, including a 6-0 edge in steals) and cashed in the Hog giveaways for a 12-3 advantage in points-off-turnovers as well as a 12-0 win in fastbreak points. A&M’s bench outscored Arkansas’ bench, 20-1, in the first 20 minutes.
Notae scored 17 points and Umude had 8 in the first half to lead the Hogs.