By Kevin McPherson
Junior guard Ricky Council’s potential game-tying three-pointer was off target as time expired and the Arkansas Razorbacks blew another double-digit lead on the road while becoming the 14th victim of the season at Coleman Coliseum as league leader and second-ranked Alabama remained unbeaten at home with an 86-83 win on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Arkansas (19-10, 8-8 SEC, NET No. 15) had its two-game winning streak snapped — although it has won 7 of its last 10 league outings — as the Hogs are still looking for their fourth consecutive 20-win season under fourth-year head coach Eric Musselman with two regular-season games remaining. The Hogs reached double-digit losses in a season for the first time since Musselman’s first campaign at Arkansas in ’19-20 (that Hog team finished 20-12 in the covid-shortened season).
The Hogs led by as many as 11 points in the first half and were up by 9 points at the break, but a recurring road theme for Arkansas — another extended stretch of self-inflicted wounds in the second half — fueled a 15-0 Bama run as the Tide overturned a 5-point deficit to take a 56-46 lead.
The Hogs missed layups, had a 1-of-8 stretch at the free throw line, and blown defensive assignments leading to unconstested Tide layups and dunks that helped ‘Bama expand and maintain double-digit leads until junior guard Devo Davis’ three-pointer pulled the Hogs within 75-68 with 2:04 remaining. Arkansas would grind within 85-83 on Nick Smith, Jr.’s step-back triple with 8.8 seconds to play, and after a 1-of-2 Tide free throw trip with 7.8 seconds remaining extended ‘Bama to an 86-83 advantage, Council received the inbounds pass and dribbled up the left side of the court for his deep and contested three-point attempt that was not close.
Smith scored a game-high 24 points (9-of-23 field goals, including 2-of-3 from 3, and 4-of-5 free throws) to go with 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, and ZERO turnovers in 40 minutes. Smith has scored 50 points combined in the Hogs’ last two games on a combined 18-of-37 from the field (48.6%), including 7-of-11 from 3 (63.6%), and a collective 7-of-9 at the free throw line (77.8%).
Junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 21 points (8-of-15 field goals, including 3-of-4 from 3, and 2-of-3 free throws), 5 rebounds, and ZERO turnovers in 39 minutes. Junior guard Ricky Council IV had 20 points (5-of-9 field goals, including 0-of-1 from 3, and 10-fo-14 free throws) 2 steals, 1 rebound, and 2 turnovers in 30 minutes off the bench. Freshman guard Anthony Black fouled out with 4:32 to play and finished with only 7 points (2-of-7 field goals and 3-of-4 field goals), 3 steals, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers in only 16 minutes. Frontliners Makhel Mitchell, Jalen Graham, and Jordan Walsh combined for 11 points, 17 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 blocks, and 3 turnovers.
Similar to how things played out in the Tide’s win in Fayetteville in early January, the Hogs’ defense was solid in the first half but riddled with breakdowns and busts in the second half with ‘Bama executing and taking advantage. The Tide shot 19-of-34 from the field (55.9%) in the final 20 minutes after going 10-of-30 in the first half (33.3%) to finish the game 29-of-64 on overall field goals (45.3%). The Hogs held the prolific three-point shooting Tide to 3-of-22 from 3 (13.6%). ‘Bama made 25-of-30 at the foul line (83.3%).
Arkansas shot 29-of-70 from the field (41.4%), but the Hogs were solid from 3 (5-of-10 for 50%). The Hogs made only 20-of-29 free throws (69.0%).
The Razorbacks had 12 steals, 6 blocks, and finished plus-6 in turnovers (17-11), plus-5 in points-off-turnovers (12-7), and plus-5 in fastbreak points (11-6). ‘Bama was plus-11 in the second half on the glass to finish plus-11 for the game (48-37), but both teams had 15 second-chance-points. ‘Bama was plus-14 in points-in-the-paint (52-38) and the Tide won bench scoring (33-27).
“Disappointed in our free throw shooting in that second half,” Musselman said. “We shoot a decent percentage from the foul line, it’s a possible different outcome. This Alabama team is obviously ranked second in the country, and playing at home it hadn’t lost a game. I thought our effort was tremendous. Some guys played really well, and we had some guys struggle today. That’s happened to us on the road. But, we’ve got to get back and a quick turnaround obviously for Tennessee.”
The Hogs have a respectable Quad-1 and Quad-2 combined resume — a 3-7 record in Q1 games plus a 4-2 mark in Q2 games — with only one Q3 loss (against LSU in the SEC opener in December) that has all but solidified an NCAAT automatic bid when those are announced on Selection Sunday (March 12). Arkansas is now playing for NCAAT-seed improvement and still has two league games remaining as both are Q1 opportunities — at NET No. 3 and 11th-ranked Tennessee on Feb. 28, and home against NET No. 29 Kentucky on March 4).
As for the SEC pecking order and seeding for the league’s postseason tournament in less than two weeks, the Hogs are currently 8th in the league standings and all but certain to be out of the running for a top 4 seed in the SECT (the top 4 seeds in the league receive double-byes to the SECT quarterfinals).
The Razorbacks are now 4-3 in February in ’22-23 after the program had lost only one game in its 14 February tilts spanning the ’20-21 and ’21-22 campaigns.
Arkansas dropped to 36-32 all-time against Alabama as the Tide have won 4 of the last 6 meetings, which includes a 1-3 record for Arkansas in Tuscaloosa in that span.
Alabama (25-4, 15-1 SEC, NET No. 2) has won all 14 of its home games and remains one game ahead of league second-place Texas A&M in the SEC standings. The Tide swept the season home-and-away series against the Razorbacks.
Freshman Brandon Miller — the frontrunning candidate for SEC Player of the Year — came into the game after a week of national scrutiny and questions surrounding whether or not he should have been suspended after Tuscaloosa police linked him to the shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris on Jan. 15 that led to a former Bama teammate and another man being charged with capital murder but no charges for Miller. After scoring 41 points in a mid-week overtime win over South Carolina, Miller had 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 turnovers against Arkansas. Guard Jahvon Quinerly had 16 points off the bench, transfer guard Marcus Sears had 13 points (including 9-of-10 free throw shooting mostly in the closing minutes of the game), and freshman 6-10 forward Noah Clowney finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“We had 13 offensive rebounds, they had 14,” Musselman said. “They did out-rebound us, but I thought defensive activity we had 12 steals to Alabama’s six. I thought we did a fairly good job in a lot of areas. We’ve talked about the three-ball defense. They took 30 free throws, we took 29, but the difference is they made five more free throws than us. As I’ve looked at the stat without looking at film, that’s the difference in the game. They have 17 turnovers. We have 11 turnovers. We made five threes and only took 10 attempts, and Alabama took 22 threes and made three. Unfortunate for us. We came up three points shy. We’ve had a lot of close road games that could have gone either way, and we’re some free throws away. Again, we only have two games left to play in the regular season and we have to continue to try and get better.
“I thought we were better today against Alabama than we were in Bud Walton. Tonight it was the five-minute stretch in the second half. And last game it was the last 4:30 at Bud Walton. But I think we’ve played Alabama, even though we’re 0-2, we’e played them well. They are at home and the No. 2 team in the country. We’ve got to get better in some areas and we need everybody to play good games against a team that is really, really good like Alabama is.”
As stated above, the loss against the Tide (NET No. 2) counts as a Quad-1 result. Based on the current NCAA NET rankings, Arkansas (NET No. 15) is now 3-7 in Q1 games that factor into its postseason resume (a win at Kentucky, a home win against Texas A&M, and a win over San Diego State in a neutral-site game, and losses to Alabama twice in home-and-away, Texas A&M on the road, Baylor on the road, Missouri on the road, Auburn on the road, and Creighton at a neutral site). The Hogs are 4-2 in Q2 games (home wins over Florida, Missouri, and Bradley, a neutral-site win over Oklahoma, a home loss to Mississippi State, and a road loss to Vanderbilt), and they are 12-1 in Q3/4 games.
Musselman slipped to 92-38 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 44-30 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 the aforementioned road game against No. 11 Tennessee on Tuesday (8 p.m. CT, ESPN2).
Musselman started the combination of Smith, Black, Davis, Walsh, and Makhi Mitchell for the third consecutive game.
Smith scored on a pull-up jumper, Walsh dunked after a steal, and Black scored on a floater as the Hogs jumped out to a 7-2 lead.
‘Bama struck back and the Tide were ahead 20-19 when Arkansas blasted off with a 14-2 run — Smith hits two free throws, Davis hit a deep triple followed by a tough-and-probing layuo in traffic, Makhel Mitchell had an and-one conversion at the basket, Smith hit a runner in transition, and Council dunked in transition off a Smith lob pass — to go up 33-33.
Smith’s runner with 5 seconds remaining sent Arkansas into halftime with a 37-28 lead. Smith led Hog scorers with 10 first-half points while Council and Davis each had 8 points.’
Arkansas’ first-half defense was stifling, limiting Alabama to 10-of-30 field goal shooting (33.3%), including 1-of-10 from 3 (10.0%), while forcing 10 turnovers (inluding 5 steals) for a plus-6 advantage in points-off-turnovers (8-2). The Hogs also had 4 blocked shots in the first 20 minutes. Both teams had 22 rebounds.
The Razorbacks shot 14-of-35 from the field (40.0%) in the opneing half, including 1-of-3 from 3 (33.3%), and 8-of-9 from the free throw line (88.9%).