Despite trailing by double-digits in both halves No. 9 Arkansas simply refused to leave Hawaii with two consecutive losses, and it was reserve forward Kamani Johnson’s blue-collar, wrecking-ball ways that first turned the tide before his putback to beat the buzzer in regulation sent the game to overtime, and from there the Razorbacks collectively out-brawled the veteran and scrappy 17th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs for a 78-74 win in the third-place game of the Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center.
After battling all the way back — Arkansas trailed by 13 points in first half and by 11 points in the second half — the Hogs still had to overcome a 4-point deficit with 13 seconds left in regulation, but they forcefully outscored the Aztecs 15-7 bridging those final seconds of regulation to the end of overtime while wrapping up their week with a 2-1 run in the holiday tournament.
After the Aztecs converted two free throws with 17 seconds left to extend to a 67-63 lead, they opted to foul Arkansas freshman guard Anthony Black with 13 seconds remaining. Black converted both freebies to cut the deficit in half, which also allowed the Hogs to set up their full-court press to defend against San Diego State’s ensuing inbounds play. Arkansas trapped immediately after the inbounds pass, forcing a loose ball that sophomore forward Trevon Brazile went to the floor to gather, at which time he called for a timeout after gaining possession with 7.5 seconds to play.
The Hogs went with a set play out of the timeout to get Black downhill off a screen driving to the basket with options to shoot or pass. His shot was off but Johnson was there for a point-blank putback that tied the game at 67-all as time expired in regulation.
Junior wing Ricky Council IV gave Arkansas its first lead of the game, 69-67, by scoring the first bucket in the extra period, and though SDSU senior guard Darrion Trammell drained a triple to put his team back in the lead at 70-69, Council went to work again, this time on a pull-up jumper that gave Arkansas the lead for good at 71-70 with 3:39 left in overtime.
From there, it was Brazile (layup), Johnson (another putback after a multi-player scrum underneath the basket), and then Council and Johnson combining to make 3-of-4 free throws in the final 13 seconds of overtime that proved to be just enough to send the Hogs to the winner’s circle in their final game in Maui.
“I thought in the first half we just, it looked like we didn’t have the energy we normally play with,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “San Diego State was a team coming into the tournament that we felt with their veterans and how well-coached they are, and I thought in the first half it looked like they were a team that kind of knew their roles a little bit more. We’re still trying to figure out who we are.
“And we thought somebody off the bench that maybe hadn’t play last night could have an impact, and obviously Kamani Johnson was absolutely incredible the last 19 minutes of the game.”
Johnson, the 6-7 senior forward from New York, bullied his way to 7 points (2-of-2 field goals and 3-of-5 free throws), 7 rebounds, and 2 steals in 19 minutes, and his boxscore plus-14 was tops on the team.
Brazile led the way with 20 points (18 coming in the second half and overtime) to go with a game-high 9 rebounds and 2 steals in 40 minutes, and he made all three of the Hogs’ three-point baskets on a night they shot a collective 3-of-17 from distance (17.6%).
“The main thing, I was just trying to be a leader on the court,” Brazile said following the win. “I know my teammates needed me, so just playing hard, keeping us together, had a good outcome. You’re always worried when your down double-digits, but I just kept huddlin’ the guys up, telling them ‘We’ve got to keep fighting, we’ve got to stay in it.’ It’s an older team (SDSU), we knew that going in. We prepped for ’em hard, we were well-prepared, but we knew it was going to be a fight going in.”
Council, the Hogs’ leading scorer coming into the game, struggled with first-half miscues (turnovers and off-shooting) before surging in the second half as he finished with 19 points (18 coming in the in the final 14 minutes of regulation plus overtime), 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in 41 minutes.
Black — he finished with 15 points (including clutch 9-of-10 free throw shooting), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and a boxscore plus-12 in 39 minutes — did most of the Hogs’ heavy-lifting production-wise in the first half, but he was sitting on the bench with two fouls for a near five-minute stretch in the opening half that resulted in a 15-1 run that put SDSU ahead 29-16.
Black was the lone Hog named to the Maui Invitational all-tournament team as his 22.3 points per game was tops in the event.
Freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh put in a gritty effort while contributing 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and only 1 turnover in 34 minutes. The Mitchell twins — starting forward / center Makhi and reserve forward / center Makhel — combined for 8 points (3-of-3 field goals and 2-of-2 free throws) and 6 rebounds in a collective 26 minutes.
The Hogs at one point were minus-16 in points-in-the-paint (28-12), but with Johnson providing the blueprint on how to win the blue-collar battles inside Arkansas finished the game only minus-2 in points-in-the-paint (34-32). The Hogs also narrowed the turnover gap, finishing only minus-1 (16-15) with a draw in points-off-turnovers (16 for each team). Arkansas was plus-6 on the glass (40-34), plus-7 in second-chance-points (11-4), plus-1 in fastbreak scoring (10-9), and a whopping plus-16 in bench scoring (33-17). Both teams came in averaging double-digits in steals per game, and both finished with 9.
The Razorbacks shot 24-of-60 overall from the field (40%) while SDSU made 27-of-62 field goals (43.5%), but only 2-of-18 fom 3 (11.1%).
After losing most of the free throw battles early in the season, Arkansas had a big win on Wednesday in that category as it made 27-of-38 at the line (71.1%), which included a 19-of-26 effort combined in the second half and overtime (73.1%). The Aztecs were more efficient in 15 fewer attempts (18-of-23 for 78.3%) in the game.
SDSU was led by guard Matt Bradley (game-high 23 points and 7 rebounds), Trammell (13 points), and forward Keshad Johnson (10 points and 7 rebounds). Senior forward Jaedon Ledee, the team’s second-leading scorer coming in, was held to 6 points and 1 rebound in 15 minutes.
It was a successful end to Arkansas’ Hawaiian holiday trip after a lopsided foul-fest in the second half on Tuesday aided 10th-ranked Creighton in a 90-87 win over the Razorbacks in the tourney’s semifinals (the Bluejays made 20-of-28 second-half free throws with 25 of those attempts coming in the final 16 minutes after multiple questionable calls once the Hogs grabbed their first lead of the game). Creighton lost in the Maui title game against 14th-ranked Arizona, 81-79, earlier on Wednesday.
The Razorbacks improved to 2-1 away from home (wins over SDSU and Louisville plus the aforementioned loss to Creighton, all coming in Maui), and they improved to 1-1 against ranked teams so far this season (the back-to-back games against ranked teams is a first under Musselman at Arkansas in non-conference play).
It stands to reason that once the NCAA NET rankings are released later this season that the outcomes against SDSU and Creighton will result in a 1-1 record for Arkansas in Quad-1 games.
Arkansas is now 3-0 all-time against San Diego State.
The Hogs return home to Fayetteville and will return to the court on Monday, Nov. 28, against Troy at Bud Walton Arena (7 p.m. CT, SEC Network).
Musselman improved to 4-1 at Arkansas in regular-season tournament-format events (includes a 2-0 mark last season en route to winning the Hall of Fame Classic), and he’s now 13-5 overall in tournament play (includes the SEC and NCAA postseason tournaments). He’s 20-1 in games played in November.
Musselman is 78-29 overall leading the program, which includes a 42-7 mark against non-conference opponents. He has a 36-22 record against SEC teams and had a 6-2 mark spanning two NCAA Tournaments that culminated in back-to-back Elite Eight runs and back-to-back final national Top 10 rankings.
With freshman guard Nick Smith Jr., still out, Musselman started Black, Council, Walsh, Makhi Mitchell, and junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis for the fifth consecutive game on Wednesday.
Brazile’s twisting bucket in front of the rim put the Hogs in the lead, 15-14, in a back-and-forth game before SDSU strung together a blue-collar 15-1 run — part of that was 9-0 with Black sitting on the Arkansas bench with two fouls — as the Aztecs ran out to a 29-16 lead.
Black re-entered the game and got to the free throw line with 5:44 showing on the clock, hitting both free throws to end the Hogs’ 5-minute scoring drought as Arkansas would string together a 6-0 spurt to climb back within 29-22.
Davis’ runner on the Hogs’ final first-half possession whittled SDSU’s lead down to 9 points, 35-26, at the break.
The Aztecs shot 14-of-29 in the first half (48.3%), including 0-of-8 from 3, while making 7-of-11 fee throws (63.6%). Defensively, SDSU got into the Hogs using a quickness and physciality advantage while at time pressuring for 94 feet.
Arkansas made only 9-of-22 field goals in the first 20 minutes (40.9%), including 0-of-8 from 3, and 8-of-12 free throws (66.7%).
Arkansas was plus-2 on the glass (17-15), but minus-5 in turnovers (10-5), minus-4 in points-off-turnovers (8-4), and minus-6 in points-in-the-paint (18-12).