By Kevin McPherson
The 15th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks needed a win on the road against unranked Vanderbilt on Saturday to avoid their worst start in league play in five years, but more of the same self-inflicted wounds and a colossal, avalanche-scale defensive collapse in the second half doomed the Hoop Hogs in a 97-84 loss to the Commodores at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn.
The Hogs extended an 8-point halftime lead to a 50-40 advantage with 17:37 to play in the game, but the Commodores were unstoppable inside and out (and at the free throw line) from there in outscoring Arkansas 57-34 to win going away while handing the Razorbacks their third consecutive loss by double-digit margins. After making only 11-of-30 from the field in the first half (36.7%), Vandy shot 18-of-26 in final 20 minutes (69.2%), including 6-of-9 from 3 (66.7%), and 21-of-23 from the free throw line (91.3%) in scoring 63 total second-half points (the Hogs had been yielding 64.1 points PER GAME through their first 16 contests).
Arkansas (12-5, 1-4 SEC) remained winless in true road games on the season (0-3 as part of a 4-4 record in all games played away from their home at Bud Walton Walton Arena in Fayetteville).
Arkansas’ 1-4 start in league play is the worst in the program in five seasons, matching the start for the ’18-19 Hoop Hogs in Mike Anderson’s final campaign coaching the team. The Razorbacks were coming off back-to-back double-digit-margin losses against No. 4 Alabama at home on Wednesday (84-69) and then-No. 22 Auburn on the road a week ago (72-59).
The Razorback are tied for second-to-last-place in the SEC with LSU, just one game ahead of league-winless Ole Miss (0-5).
Vandy (9-8, 2-2 SEC) snapped its own two-game losing streak after opening league play with a home win over South Carolina.
“I just think we’ve got a lot of guys still trying to figure out how to win on the road, how to win in conference,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “I mean, I’ve coached a lot of games and can’t remember a defensive team giving up 63 points in a half. You know, as the game progressed, the competitive nature slipped. And so, you know, you get the results of a team scoring 97 points on you. And a team that scored 63 in a half, you know, we lost the second half by 21 points, so, I would say, from a competitive standpoint, we have to be much more competitive. And for much of the season, offensive struggle has been the problem. Tonight, certainly, defensively was a major, major issue.
“I guess Coach (Jerry) Stackhouse would have to answer if they changed some things (halftime adjustments). I thought we didn’t defend the three. I thought (Vandy guard Tyrin) Lawrence dominated us off the dribble. The scouting report was no dribble drives left, and he continually went left and blew by us. Taking away the three was what we discussed the last three days, and they made 10 threes. Rebounding the ball was extremely important. We did not rebound the ball defensively like we felt we should. Just a poor second half.”
In addition to it’s blistering-hot shooting, Vanderbilt was plus-34 in bench scoring (40-6) and plus-7 on the glass (38-31) with each team finishing with 15 offensive rebounds. The Commodores were plus-2 in fastbreak points (7-5). For the game, Vandy shot 29-of-56 from the field (51.8%), including 10-of-18 from 3 (55.6%), and 29-of-36 at the free throw line (80.6%).
Arkansas finally didn’t get crushed in the turnover battle — plus-2 (11-9) for plus-1 in points-off-turnovers (13-12) — and the Hogs were plus-10 in paints-in-the-paint (42-32) and plus-2 in second-chance-points (16-14). For the game, the Razorbacks shot 31-of-63 from the field (49.2%), including an improved 7-of-18 from 3 (38.9%), and 15-of-24 from 3 (62.5%).
Junior 6-4 guard Tyrin Lawrence — averaging 9.6 points per game coming in — led Vandy with 22 points (7-of-14 field goals, including 2-of-2 from 3, and 6-of-8 free throws) to go with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Senior guard Jordan Wright went for 17 points — 13 coming in a 15-0 Vandy run good for a 71-59 ‘ Dores’ lead with 8:02 to play. Forward Myles Stute finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals. Trey Thomas had 13 points (including 3-of-4 shooting from distance) while 7-foot big man Liam Robbins had all of his 14 points in the second half (4-of-5 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 5-of-5 free throws).
Arkansas was led by junior guard Ricky Council IV’s game-high 24 points (8-of-12 field goals, including 3-of-6 from 3, and 5-of-7 free throws) to go with 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers in 40 minutes. Freshman guard Anthony Davis had 18 points (7-of-15 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3, and 2-of-4 free throws), 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, and 4 turnovers in 22 minutes. Junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis contributed 17 points (6-of-14 field goals, including 0-of-3 from 3, and 5-of-5 free throws), a team-high 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 turnovers in 38 minutes. Senior forward / center Makhi Mitchell chipped in 11 points (4-of-7 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 2-of-4 free throws), a team-high 8 rebounds, and 1 block in 22 minutes. Makhel Mitchell had 8 points (4-of-5 field goals and 0-of-3 free throws), 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 assist in 17 minutes. Freshman wing Joseph Pinion had all of the Hogs’ bench scoring — 6 points (2-of-2 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 1-of-1 free throw) to go with 1 steal in 5 minutes.
The Razorbacks dropped to 29-14 all-time against Vandy as the ‘Dores have won two consecutive games in the series going back to last season. Arkansas slipped to 8-9 all-time in the Commodore’s home venue, Memorial Gymnasium.
The loss against the ‘Dores (NET No. 107) counts as a Q2 result. Based on the current NCAA NET rankings, Arkansas (NET No. 18) is 2-3 in Quad-1 games that factor into their postseason resume (wins over San Diego State and Oklahoma, and losses to Alabama, Auburn, and Creighton).
Musselman fell to 3-2 at Arkansas coaching against Vanderbilt. Musselman is 85-33 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 37-26 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 another road game — at No. 20 Missouri on Wednesday, Jan. 18. The end of the current two-game road swing concludes a 4-road-games-in-6-games stretch to open league play for Arkansas.
“I just think the level of competition has changed,” Musselman said. “Because of that our defensive deficiencies are showing up with each game, and our competitive … I mean, we’ve lost three straight games by double digits. I don’t recall a team we’ve coached doing that unless it was at the NBA level. Disappointed with the competitiveness. Disappointed with when a team make a run, combating that run. But again, we have a whole group of guys that’s learning, and we’re trying to learn as well.”
Musselman started the combination of Counci, Anthony Black, Davis, and the Mitchell twins for the first time this season.
Council had 9 points early capped by a 17-foot pull-up jumper to tie the game at 20-all, then Black went to work with 5 straight points followed by an assist to Makhel Mitchell for a dunk that put the Razorbacks ahead 29-26.
Back-to-back triples by Black and Council extended the Hogs lead to 35-26, but the ‘Dores struck back with a couple of makes from behind the arc to pull within 35-32.
But a melee at the end of a Black driving layup during which he was fouled resulted in three Vandy deadball technical fouls. What resulted was a 7-points possession for the Hogs — Black made his and-1 free throw resulting from the foul, and Council made 4-of-6 free throws that resulted from the three technical fouls — as Arkansas grabbed its biggest lead, 42-32.
Council (16 points) and Black (15 points) led the way in first-half scoring for Arkansas.
The Hogs made six consecutive field goals in one stretch while finishing the first 20 minutes shooting 16-of-29 from the field (55.2%), including 2-of-6 from 3 (33.3%), and 8-of-14 free throws (57.1%). Defensively, the Razorbacks limited the ‘Dores to 11-of-20 shooting from the field (36.7%), but Vandy did hit 4-of-9 from 3 (44.4%) despite also struggling from the foul line (8-of-13 for 61.5%).
Arkansas held a sizeable edge in points-in-the-paint (24-10) while finally gaining an edge in turnovers (7-5) with an identical advantage in points-off-turnovers (7-5). Vandy won the first-half rebounding battle (22-18) and used 11 offensive boards for an 11-6 edge in second-chance-points.