By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — The 15th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks had not hosted a game between Top 15-ranked teams at Bud Walton Arena since 1995, and when they got their first such encounter of the 21st century on Wednesday it did not go well as the Hoop Hogs lost their second consecutive SEC game (and third loss in their last four games), 84-69, against visiting No. 4 Alabama.
Hogs senior forward Jalen Graham’s spinning hook shot capped a 7-0 Arkansas run to pull the Hogs within 65-63 with 4:54 to play, but Tide freshmen Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney combined for three lightning-fast triples — in a 49-second span from 4:32 to 3:43 — as ‘Bama snatched an 11-point lead, 74-63, and never looked back.
‘Bama won turnovers (15-13) but dominated both points-off-turnovers (24-7) and fastbreak points (24-4). Both teams were almost equally inefficient shooting in the first half as they battled to a 33-all tie at the break, but the Tide shot 15-of-28 field goals in the second half (53.6%), including a blistering-hot 7-of-10 from 3 (70%), and 14-of-17 at the free throw line (82.4%).
Both teams finished with 37 rebounds and the Hogs were plus-8 in points-in-the-paint (40-32). The Hogs were improved shooting in the final 20 minutes (15-of-33 for 45.5%, including 2-of-7 from 3 for 28.6%), but not nearly as good as the Tide. The Hogs made 4-of-5 at the line in the second half, finishing the game with 13 fewer free throw attempts than the visitors despite a massive effort to attack the paint and rim.
For the game, ‘Bama shot 25-of-54 from the field (46.3%), including 9-of-20 from 3 (45.0%), and 25-of-36 at the free throw line (69.4%). Arkansas was 26-of-61 on field goals (42.6%), including 2-of-10 from 3 (20.0%), and 15-of-23 at the foul line (65.2%).
Junior transfer guard Mark Sears got downhill early and often, gutting the Hogs driving to the basket in both halves as he finished with a game-high 26 points (including 10-of-10 free throws). Miller did not attempt a shot in the first half against stifling defensive pressure meant to force him to pass the ball, but he notched 14 second-half points (3-of-4 field goals, including 2-of-2 from 3 in that game-winning 9-0 burst, and 6-of-7 free throws). Clowney had 15 points (5-of-6 field goals, including 3-of-4 from 3, and 2-of-5 free throws).
Junior guard Devo Davis notched his second double-double of the season –16 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and ZERO turnovers in 38 minutes. Graham contributed 16 points (8-of-10 field goals), 5 rebounds, and 1 block in 19 minutes off the bench. Junior guard Ricky Council IV had 15 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and 5 turnovers in 36 minutes and senior forward Makhi Mitchell had 10 points and 5 rebounds before fouling out. Freshman guard Anthony Black played with foul trouble for a second consecutive game and had 5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers in 33 minutes before fouling out with 0:00.5 remaining in the game.
“I thought Brandon Miller was phenomenal in the second half,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought in the first half we did a great job of executing the defensive game plan. We went under twice on him and he hit two big 3s (in the late game-deciding run). That’s what you need great players to do that are on your roster. He stepped up when the game was in the balance. It’s a team that’s playing with great confidence. They’re fourth in the country. They won at Houston.”
The free throw disparity between the teams was not lost on Musselman.
“I can’t recall a home game that I’ve ever coached that an opposing team had 36 free throws attempted,” Musselman said. “You know, I know they had talked about all our free throws last year (actually in ’20-21). This year we’re at home and it happens. So, I don’t know if I’ve seen fouls with .5 seconds either, but it is what it is. Alabama deserved to win. They went through that stretch that was way too much for us to overcome based on our lack of shooting and our lack of stretching the floor out.
“I mean we take 10 three balls attempted to their 20, so they took twice as many threes as us and we only got to the line 23 times. So I don’t know how that … I don’t understand that. If we were taking a lot of three-point shots I would understand it. But we’ve got to take better care of the ball too. I mean we didn’t shoot the ball well and we had 15 turnovers and gave up 9 threes. So you add those factors in and you’re not going to win many basketball games. It’s hard to win right now when you’re not making threes, which I don’t know if we will. And then our free throw percentage has got to improve as well.”
Arkansas (12-4, 1-3 SEC) lost for the first time at home (8-1) while slipping to 2-3 against ranked teams on the season (including 1-2 against ranked teams in its last three games). Prior to the loss, the Razorbacks had won five consecutive games against ranked teams in matchups played at BWA, a streak that began with an 81-66 triumph over then-No. 6 Alabama on Feb. 24, 2021. The last time the Hogs hosted a tilt between Top 15-ranked teams was on Super Bowl Sunday (Jan. 29, 1995) during the program’s 1994-95 national runner-up season as No. 9 Arkansas topped No. 5 Kentucky, 94-92, at BWA.
These ’22-23 Hogs were coming off a bumbling 72-59 road loss against then-No. 22 Auburn on Saturday, while Alabama (14-2, 3-1 SEC) had just rocked Kentucky, 78-52, on Saturday. With their win over the Hogs on Wednesday, the Crimson Tide have won five consecutive games and are a perfect 4-0 in true road tilts.
Based on the current NCAA NET rankings, Arkansas (NET No. 16) is now 2-3 in Quad-1 games that factor into their postseason resume (wins over San Diego State and Oklahoma, and losses to Alabama, Creighton, and Auburn).
The Razorbacks dropped to 36-31 all-time against ‘Bama as the Tide have won 3 of the last 4 meetings in the series.
Musselman is 2-3 at Arkansas coaching against Alabama and Tide head coach Nate Oats. Musselman is 85-32 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 37-25 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 are back-to-back road games — at Vanderbilt on Saturday and at No. 20 Missouri on Wednesday, Jan. 18. The end of that road trip concludes a 4-road-games-in-6-games stretch to open league play for Arkansas.
Musselman started Davis, Anthony Black, Jordan Walsh, and the Mitchell twins (Makhi and Makhel) for the first time this season.
Makhel Mitchell’s emphatic slam-and-1 put the Hogs ahead early, 5-3, and after the teams exchanged scores, the Tide strung together a 14-5 run to go up 19-12.
Graham came off the bench to strike for 8 points, and Council also played off the bench as he pieced together 5 consecutive points — all of it fueling a 17-9 Hogs spurt that put them in the lead, 28-27.
A Makhi Mitchell lay-in off a Council feed gave Arkansas its biggest lead of the first 20 minutes, 31-28, before the Tide scrapped to pull even at the break, 33-all.
The teams combined for 28 first-half fouls as the Hogs converted 11-of-18 free throws (61.1%) with the Tide making 11-of-19 freebies (57.9%).