By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — Win or lose, Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman viewed the opportunity for his 14th-ranked Razorbacks to host a cohesive, veteran No. 3 Purdue squad in front of a loud, packed Bud Walton Arena in a charity exhibition game on Saturday as a valuable learning experience for his team with the start of the regular season just more than a week away.
Turns out it was his Hoop Hogs handing out some lessons of their own as Arkansas punched an 81-77 overtime winning ticket against the reigning Big Ten champion Boilermakers in a game that officially does not count toward either team’s resume in 2023-24, although the matchup was the first of a trio of home tilts for Arkansas against preseason Associated Press Top 10-ranked teams as preseason No. 2 Duke (on Nov. 29) and preseason No. 9 Tennessee (Feb. 14) will also trek to BWA in the regular season.
Transfer guards Tramon Mark, El Ellis, and Khalif Battle proved to be game-closer worthy, as did transfer stretch-5 Chandler Lawson, while preseason All SEC first-team pick Trevon Brazile held his own against reigning Naismith national player of the year Zach Edey in a battle of marquee players.
Ellis scored two consecutive paint buckets plus an and-one free throw followed by a pull-up jumper at the nail by Mark as the Hogs used a 7-0 run late in the extra period to go up 76-71 with 1:10 remaining. After a made three by Purdue’s Lance Jones, Mark made 3-of-4 free throws in the closing seconds in concert with the Hogs’ getting crucial stops on defense, including Lawson’s steal with 6.8 seconds that led to his 2-of-2 free throw effort and an 81-75 lead to effectively close out the win.
“I thought both teams treated the game like a mid-season game,” Musselman said. “It felt like an NCAA Tournament vibe to be honest. I’m really, really proud of our team, because we have so many faces. We’re trying to figure out go-to sets. We’re trying to figure out who’s going to have the ball in their hands. We’re playing against a team that’s so well-coached, and is very physical and very tough and has a unique player, a star player.
“But that Purdue team has the talent, the coaching, to win a national championship. They do.”
Mark’s pull-up three pointer with 22.7 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 69-all after Purdue had used a 13-3 run to go ahead 69-66. The Boilermakers’ ensuing offensive possession following Mark’s triple was foiled by a Lawson steal that triggered a transition scoring opportunity for Ellis, but his hard drive left carried him a bit too wide of the rim as his buzzer-beating layup attempt was short, sending the game to the extra period.
Purdue would score first on a pair of Edey made free throws for a 71-69 lead, and though Mark missed a couple of freebies as part of three straight empty Arkansas offensive possessions (including two turnovers) to start OT, he would score 5 of the Hogs’ final 7 points to help cement the victory.
Arkansas shot 3-of-5 from the field (60%) and 6-of-9 at the foul line (66.7%) in overtime while holding Purdue to 2-of-7 field goal shooting (28.6%) and forcing a late turnover.
Mark and Brazile both started and led the Hogs in scoring with 15 points each as Mark shot 5-of-10 from the field, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 4-of-8 free throws while Brazile made 4-of-7 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3, and 5-of-5 free throws. Mark also had a team-high 6 rebounds, team-high-matching 4 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal and a boxscore plus-6 in 33 minutes. Brazile chipped in 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, 1 block, and a boxscore plus-8 in 31 minutes.
Ellis (starter) and Battle (reserve) each scored 12 points with Battle ripping down 5 tough rebounds in his 32 minutes and Ellis contributing 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, and a boxscore plus-9 in 27 minutes.
Lawson started and turned in arguably the best two-way (offense/defense) performance of the game with 10 points (3-of-4 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 3-of-3 free throws), 3 steals, 3 blocks, 2 rebounds, and a boxscore plus-6 in 33 minutes while mostly matching up with Edey.
Senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis started and finished with 2 points, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 rebounds, and 3 turnovers in 22 minutes as he sat more than 14 minutes on the bench in the first half with two fouls followed by what looked to be a head-to-head collision with Edey diving on the floor for a loose ball at the 2:33 mark in the second half that took him out of the game the rest of the way.
Freshman guard Layden Blocker provided a nice lift off the bench with 6 points (3-of-4 field goals) and 1 assist in 8 minutes. Senior Makhi Mitchell, a regular starter last season, had 4 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block with 2 turnovers in 20 minutes in a reserve role. Senior transfer wing Jeremiah Davenport contributed 5 points (including 1-of-4 from 3) off the bench.
For the game, the Razorbacks shot 30-of-59 from the field (50.8%), including a competent 8-of-23 from 3 (34.8%). After not attempting a free throw in the first 28:36 of the game, the Hogs finished 13-of-17 freebies (76.5%).
Defensively, the Hogs held Purdue to 26-of-67 from the field (38.8%), including 8-of-27 from 3 (29.6%). The Boilermakers finished 17-of-25 on free throws (68.0%). Purdue attempted 13 free throws before the Hogs attempted their first freebie.
Arkansas forced 20 turnovers for the second consecutive exhibition game. The home team dug out 14 steals as part of that defensive effort while finishing plus-5 in turnovers (20-15), plus-7 in steals (14-7), and plus-4 in points-off-turnovers (18-14). The Hogs also won bench scoring (27-17), points-in-the-paint (34-30), fastbreak points (10-6), blocks (7-3), and assists (13-10).
“We took the word exhibition out,” Mark said. “We treated it like a real game and that’s what we did. We came out and played hard for all 40 minutes. And like I said, we took the word exhibition out. It was a real tough game. Both teams were scrappy. Both teams were trying to get the win here, and that’s how we took it and that’s what we did.”
The Razorbacks open their official campaign at home against Alcorn State on Nov. 6.
Musselman improved to 7-1 in exhibition games at Arkansas, including 1-1 against high-major opponents with the lone loss coming on the road against then-AP-Top-25-ranked Texas last season in late October.
Purdue owned the offensive glass (14-1) for a dominating 17-0 advantage in second-chance points and a plus-14 win in total boards (42-28).
Edey, after scoring only 2 first-half points, finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 block — all well below his season averages in 2022-23 — as he played only 24 minutes due to foul trouble. He fouled out with 20.1 seconds remaining in overtime.
Sophomore guards Fletcher Loyer (15 points) and Braden Smith (12 points including 3-of-10 shooting on overall field goals to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 block) were productive, but each made only 2-of-6 from 3 while Smith suffered a game-high 7 turnovers.
Forward Mason Gillis scored 13 points, which included three clutch second-half triples. Forward Trey Kaufman-Renn finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 turnovers.
While Purdue was more of a known commodity with 7 of its top 8 players returning from last season’s Big Ten Conference championship, the Hogs’ mix of 5 returnees and 8 newcomers made Purdue game-planning difficult, which only escalated when 4 of the Hogs’ 5 game-closers were transfer newcomers.
“You kind of go off the trends of what that coach does in the past and just try to play off of that and really kind of keep the focus on yourself,” said 19th-year Purdue head coach Matt Painter whose perfect career 28-0 exhibition-game record has added its first blenish. “But all those guys have… They’re all… You know, No. 3 (Ellis) led Louisville in scoring, Chandler Lawson obviously is a good player. You can go right down the list. They’re all.. Khalif Battle, you know, I think he averaged 17 at Temple. You can keep going, right? So they have a lot of different guys. We played Davenport last year because we scrimmaged Cincinnati, so he’s a good player, he can shoot.”
Musselman started Brazile, Mark, Ellis, Chandler, and senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis (he left the game for good with 2:33 to play in regulation after a collision with Edey on the floor).
A Battle steal capped a 9-0 Arkansas run to give the Hogs their first lead of the game, 14-12. The game was tied at 22-all when Ellis fueled a 9-4 Arkansas spurt to give the Razorbacks a 31-26 lead at the break.
Ellis (7 points) and Battle (6 points) led the Hogs’ first-half scoring, and the Hogs held Edey to only 2 points in the first 20 minutes while hanging two fouls on him.
The Hogs shot 14-of-29 from the field (48.3%%) in the first 20 minutes, including 3-of-10 from 3 (30%). Arkansas did not attempt a free throw in the first half as Purdue was whistled for only four fouls in the first 20 minutes.
Defensively, the Razorbacks yielded only 10-of-29 field goal shooting by the Boilermakers (34.5%%) in the opening half, including 2-of-13 from 3 (15.4%). Purdue made 4-of-8 at the foul line (50%) in the opening half.
The Hogs won points-in-the-paint (20-12), bench scoring (15-6), and turnovers (11-8) in the opening half while Purdue led on the glass (19-14).
Photo by John D. James