By Kevin McPherson
The 13th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks had never faced a ranked opponent as a ranked team in an SEC home opener at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, but now the Hoop Hogs can mark that off their bucket list following a grinding, come-from-behind 74-68 victory over No. 20 Missouri on Wednesday on Nolan Richardson Court after trailing by 17 points in the first half.
Freshman wing Joseph Pinion from Morrilton sparked a late first-half rally to bring the Hogs back from a 25-8 deficit to down only 34-27 at the break, and starting junior combo guard Ricky Council IV responded playing off the bench in the second half as he finished with a game-high 25 points (including 11-of-13 at the free throw line which mostly fed his 21 second-half points with a 5-of-6 freebie effort coming in the final 25 seconds to ice the win). Council also had 7 rebounds, while Pinion finished with a career-high 13 points (4-of-7 field goals, including 3-of-6 from 3, and 2-of-2 free throws) to go with 1 rebound and 1 steal in a career-high 20 minutes off the bench.
“Whenever I hit my first 3, I felt like I might have to play a little bit tonight,” said Pinion, who started the second half for the Hogs. “Our shots weren’t falling in the first half, but I’m glad that I was able to hit some 3s and help us.
Offensively, the Razorbacks looked confused for the longest stages of the first half while trying to solve the Tigers’ zone defense as they fell behind by 17 points at the midway point of the first 20 minutes. But Arkansas put together a more assertive game plan to navigate the zone defense and attack the paint and basket in the second half, resulting in a blistering 16-of-26 shooting effort (61.5%) from the field (including 4-of-9 from 3 for 44.4% in the final 20 minutes) as the team scored 47 second-half points after mustering only 27 in the opening half. The Hogs finished the game making 26-of-54 overall from the field (48.1%), including 6-of-21 from 3 (28.6%). They made 16-of-23 free throws (69.6%).
Defensively, Arkansas held Mizzou’s vaunted offense (88.8 points per game coming in) to 20.8 points below its season average, and the Hogs kept the Tigers’ nationally elite team field goal shooting — especially inside the arc — well below their season efficiency (24-of-54 overall from the field for 44.4%, including 6-of-19 from 3 for 31.6%). Mizzou came in shooting better that 51% from the field, including better than 61% on two-point field goals.
Arkansas dominated the glass (40-23), including a 15-9 edge in offensive rebounds that led to a plus-9 win in second-chance-points (17-8). The Hogs were plus-7 in fastbreak points (18-11).
Arkansas (12-2, 1-1 SEC) remained perfect at home (8-0) on the season while improving to 2-1 against ranked teams (includes a 78-74 overtime win over then-No. 17 San Diego State and a 90-87 loss against then-No. 10 Creighton with both games coming in the Maui Invitational in late November in Hawaii).
Despite losing its SEC opener on the road last week against LSU (60-57), Arkansas has won 8 of its last 9 games. Dating back to January 2021, the Razorbacks have won eight consecutive homes games in which they trailed at halftime (source: Hogstats.com).
The Razorbacks have now won five consecutive games against the Tigers (12-2, 1-1 SEC) going back to the 2020-21 season while improving to 33-26 in the all-time series between the two schools. Prior to losing at Arkansas on Wednesday, Mizzou had won three consecutive games — on the road against unranked Central Florida, at home by 22 points against then-No. 16 Illinois, and at home by 14 points against then-No. 19 Kentucky in its SEC opener last week.
“Obviously the second half pace of play, scored 47 points,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said of his team’s turnaround. “And then defensively I thought both halves … We held them to 34 both halves, which Missouri’s a really good offensive team. To think that we outscored them in fast break points is a key statistic, because of their pace of play. Then I thought the 15 offensive rebounds and the 17 second-chance points really, really helped us. To be honest with you, we just had too many self-inflicted turnovers. Obviously their defense will do that to you, but seven steals is probably right around what they average. But we had too many turnovers just on us, that we need to clean up for sure.
“Joseph Pinion really changed our look offensively against that particular zone, because he flattened it out by being a threat in the corner and then knocking shots down.”
In addition to Council’s and Pinion’s contributions, junior guard Devo Davis stuffed the stat sheet — 10 points (5-of-10 field goals), 5 rebounds, a team-high matching 5 assists, a team-high 3 steals, and a team-high 5 turnovers in 38 minutes; freshman guard Anthony Black had 6 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block while playing all 40 minutes; and big men Kamani Johnson (5 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 steal in 20 minutes) and Makhi Mitchell (8 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 15 minutes) were active on the offensive glass, as was freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh (6 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal in 26 minutes).
Next up for Arkansas is a road game against No. 22 Auburn (11-3, 1-1 SEC) on Saturday.
Musselman’s now 85-30 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 37-23 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.
He’s also 4-0 at BWA when both teams are ranked, which includes late-season wins over Tennessee and Kentucky last season and Alabama in ’20-21.
Coming back from double-digit deficits has become a trend for the Hogs under Musselman, who identified the challenges of matching up and executing against an undersized but veteran-savvy Mizzou squad.
“I don’t have the stats in front of me from the first half, but the free throws attempted I thought was important to have a little bit more attack,” Musselman said. “I thought we did a good job against their zone of running our five man into random pick and rolls. And again, just the pace of play. I think you have a decision to make with Missouri. Do you want to run or do you want to play a tempo game, and we obviously wanted to try to score in transition as much as we could.
“Then you have another decision. You have a dilemma because they’re a great fast-break transition team. Do you hit the offensive glass or do you get back? So, those two decisions are two decisions you have to make, and we obviously decided to crash the offensive glass and not send two or three back. We sent four, sometimes five to the offensive glass. They do a great job of sometimes leaking out and getting transition baskets, but I thought we had some really good individual defensive performances. I thought Devo Davis did a phenomenal job defensively, and I thought the combination of Kamani Johnson as well as Makhi Mitchell did an excellent job on Kobe Brown not giving up a three-point attempt and only allowing seven field-goals attempted against a guy that had scored 61 points in the last two games against two ranked teams.”
Missouri was led by transfer guard Sean East II (13 points), transfer guard Nick Honor (12 points), and senior combo forward Kobe Brown (11 points), although Brown was held below his per-game average of nearly 16 points as he was effectively shut down relative to his back-to-back 30-point games in the wins over ranked Illinois and Kentucky teams in his last two outings. Tigers leading scorer D’Moi Hodge (16.5 points per game coming in) was limited to 6 points on only 2-of-4 field goals.
The Tigers did win the turnover battle (17-10), points-off-turnovers (21-8), and points-in-the-paint (28-26).
Musselman started Davis, Black, Council, Walsh, and Makhi Mitchell for the third consecutive game.
The Hogs never led in the first half, but they were down only 7-5 when the Tigers strung together an 18-3 run to grab their 25-8 lead. But the trio of Pinion, Walsh, and Johnson begane winning blue-collar plays and finding ways to score to help the Hogs chip away at the deficit.
Pinion, who led Arkansas with 7 first-half point, hit his first three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining in the first half to cut a 10-point deficit down to 7, 34-27, at the break.
Arkansas made only 10-of-28 field goals in the first half (35.7%), including 2-of-12 from 3 (16.7%), and 5-of-10 at the free throw line. Meanhwile, Mizzou was 10-of-22 from the field (45.5%) in the first 20 minutes, including 4-of-9 from 3 (44.4%), and 10-of-14 at the foul line (71.4%).
The Hogs owned the glass (21-13) in the opneing half but were minus-4 in turnovers (10-6).