“Bad Boys” Legacy Helped Arkansas Stymie Purdue’s Superstar, Ratchet Up Expectations

Arkansas basketball, Purdue basketball, Arkansas vs Purdue, Zach Edey
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Quora

FAYETTEVILLE — Just as the Bad Boy Pistons had the “Jordan Rules” three-plus decades ago, Arkansas basketball deployed the “Edey Rules” in Saturday’s exhibition matchup with Purdue.

Head coach Eric Musselman might have mimicked his mentor, Chuck Daly, when it came to that phrase, but reigning national player of the year Zach Edey more closely resembles another former NBA superstar than the G.O.A.T.

And even though the 7-foot-4, 300-pound Edey still finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds, the Razorbacks kept him mostly in check and eventually got him to foul out late in the overtime period as they pulled away for an 81-77 victory in front of a raucous, sold-out Bud Walton Arena.

“We used basically the same rules that we did with Shaquille O’Neal, where we tried to pressure the ball,” Musselman said, recalling his time as an NBA head coach in the early 2000s. “I thought that the high-low pass, we got a lot of deflections. … We tried to smother the ball and then the other three guys that did not guard Edey, we tried to play a yo-yo game where you’re in-and-out and you’re stunt bluffing.”

Arkansas harassed Edey all game and made it difficult for him to even touch the ball, especially in the first half. It took several possessions before the Boilermakers even tried to pass it inside and he get his first bucket until grabbing an offensive rebound and sticking it back in more than midway through the half.

“I was impressed with how our guys made him work for every possession, and there were no clean entry passes, which was what we wanted,” Musselman said. “I thought our weak side tags were really good. We had a couple of steals on the weak side on their lob pass. He’s the hardest player in the country to guard a lob pass.”

The Razorbacks were also physical with him, which Purdue head coach Matt Painter made sure to point out, but also didn’t sound pleased with how his guards fed him the ball down low.

He also praised Musselman for the game plan he devised to take advantage of the home court advantage in front of a sellout crowd.

“We’ve had games like this where things don’t get called, and you got to play through it — it’s life on the road,” Painter said. “You have to be able to establish your position and you have to be able to deliver the basketball to him, but I like their aggressiveness. … I thought they did a good job of really hawking the basketball and then holding their low guy against him.”

It helped that Edey was in foul trouble for almost the entire game. He picked up his first just 12 seconds into the game and then got called for going over the back on a rebound, resulting in him sitting the final 8:37 of the first half.

Even after he scored six quick points coming out of halftime, Edey was whistled for an offensive foul at the 16:48 mark and then picked up a frustration foul going for a rebound midway through the half. He finally fouled out with 20 seconds remaining in overtime.

He got some help from the likes of Makhi Mitchell and Trevon Brazile, but the man tasked with defending Edey most of the night was Memphis transfer Chandler Lawson. Despite giving up eight inches and 90 pounds, he used his 7-foot-7 wingspan and athleticism to bother him down low.

Afterward, Lawson told reporters he found out he drew the assignment on Sunday and that Musselman had been preparing him for it all week, which included watching a lot of film to pick up his tendencies. However, he also had a lot of help.

“It was totally a team effort,” Lawson said. “If it weren’t for my teammates I feel like, giving me confidence, just go out there and use your quickness, use your length. If it weren’t for those guys, I probably would have laid down, but I wasn’t going to lay down tonight in front of the crowd we had.”

The Razorbacks probably won’t see another player quite like Edey again this season, unless they meet Purdue in the NCAA Tournament, but it was an encouraging sign that they picked up the “Edey Rules” as well as they did.

Saturday was not only the first true test of the new-look squad with eight newcomers, but considering the uniqueness of the challenge, it was a master’s level course — and Arkansas passed it with flying colors.

“I’m really, really proud of our team, because we have so many faces,” Musselman said. “And I thought in the first half they executed the game plan as good as they possibly could.”

Already ranked No. 14 in the preseason AP Poll, the win will likely only further ratchet up expectations for the 2023-24 Razorbacks.

Mark Delivers in the Clutch

After leading for much of the second half, Arkansas basketball found itself in a three-point hole following a pair of free throws by Braden Smith with 37 seconds left.

Purdue immediately called a timeout to set up its defense, but Arkansas answered with a play – which Musselman said was called “15 fist out red” – that put the ball in Tramon Mark’s hands.

Instead of attacking the basket to try to make a layup or get to the free throw line in order to extend the game, like Musselman typically favors, the Houston transfer pulled up from the left wing and hit a game-tying 3-pointer.

“For whatever reason, we ran on the weak side to come off for a 3,” Musselman said. “I think when we talked about that, yeah, I think T-Mark thought like, ‘All right, Coach is fine with us taking a three,’ because the first option was a weak side three-ball — much like a couple of years ago when Mason (Jones) took a three against Georgia Tech.”

The shot tied the score at 69-69 and ultimately sent the exhibition game to overtime.

“I saw the opening,” Mark said. “Zach Edey was kind of playing off. Once I shot it, he came up, but the ball was already released out of my hands and it felt good and it went in.

In the extra period, with veteran Davonte Davis on the bench with an injury, the Razorbacks kept the ball in Mark’s hands.

He proceeded to score five of Arkansas’ 12 points in overtime, largely thanks to the three fouls he drew.

“Obviously, he gets in between you and he has that pull up,” Painter said. “He kind of forces you, he kind of shoots it right in your face. We fouled him on the turnaround – if I got my people right – in the post and then we fouled right in front of their bench.”

After that first foul, though, Mark missed both free throws. He also missed the first of two free throws later in overtime. At that point, he had missed four straight dating back to just inside the final two minutes of regulation.

Luckily for the Razorbacks, Mark made his final three attempts – including two with 20 seconds left to put them up by four – to ice the victory.

“Zero thought of not letting him continue to have the ball in his hands,” Musselman said. “There was no thought of ‘Hey, let’s hide him in the corner. He’s missed some free throws.’ I’m riding with him. I trust his mental toughness. No different than JD Notae a couple years ago.”

Rebounding When It Mattered Most

Not surprisingly given its size, Purdue dominated the boards most of the night. It finished plus-14 in that category and had 14 offensive rebounds that led to 17 second-chance points.

However, in crunch time, the Razorbacks managed to pull down some tough rebounds that allowed them to win the game in overtime.

El Ellis grabbed the first rebound and then Khalif Battle snagged the next two, but it was Arkansas’ two rebounds when it was up by three that finally started to turn the tide in its favor.

With about two minutes left, Trevon Brazile soared up for one to end the Boilermakers’ first possession after Arkansas went up by three and then, after failing to score, the Razorbacks got a long rebound courtesy of Battle with about 1.5 minutes remaining.

Had Purdue come away with either one, the result may have been different.

“In the huddle, it was like ‘Okay, we can just go back in the locker room now if we’re not going to rebound. We’re not going to win the game, and it might not even be close if we don’t start rebounding in traffic’ because I thought too many balls were bouncing off our hands,” Musselman said. “Our guards I thought did a good job folding back and rebounding. (Brazile) went above everybody on a possession to grab a defensive rebound.”

Guards actually accounted for more than half of Arkansas’ total rebounds.

Even though Battle grabbed three in overtime, it was actually Tramon Mark who led the team with six. He finished just ahead of Brazile and Battle, who had five apiece.

“Oh yeah, I was rebounding tonight,” Mark said. “I was climbing over dudes to get them rebounds. We needed those, we needed those, so I wanted to get them.”

The Razorbacks made up for their lack of rebounding in other ways – namely by forcing turnovers. Purdue turned it over 20 times, which it hasn’t done in the regular season since Nov. 26, 2020, and that number doesn’t include numerous deflections.

Chandler Lawson (3), Mark (2), Brazile (1) and Makhi Mitchell (1) also combined for seven blocks. The last time a Purdue opponent forced at least 20 turnovers and blocked seven shots in the same game was more than a decade ago, when Hofstra did it on Nov. 11, 2012.

“We had our hands on a lot of balls, we didn’t get them,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “So you’ve got to give Arkansas credit. I thought they were just a little bit quicker and tougher when we had those 50-50 plays. But we have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball.”

Arkansas Basketball Injury Report

With 2:33 remaining, Davonte Davis was injured diving for a loose ball on a rebound. He went full speed and his head collided with Zach Edey’s head.

Edey remained in the game, albeit with a large mark on his head, but Davis remained on the floor longer and appeared woozy as he was helped off the court. He did not return.

Afterward, Musselman said he didn’t believe Davis was in concussion protocol and added, “I think he’ll be fine.”

The Razorbacks were also without Jalen Graham for the second straight exhibition game, as he’s still dealing with back spasms. Asked about his status, Musselman indicated he wasn’t particularly close to being available to play and that there was still no timeline for his return.

“Have no idea if he’ll be ready for the first game or the fifth game, but he’s been pretty inactive,” Musselman said. “So we’ll just have to wait and see and continue to have our trainers and doctors to try and have the back be a little looser, more freedom of movement in the back.”

Sellout Crowd Creates Incredible Atmosphere

Despite the game being an exhibition that doesn’t count toward either team’s final record and not being part of the UA’s season ticket package, Arkansas vs Purdue was still a sellout.

The announced crowd of 19,200 — which is Bud Walton Arena’s current listed capacity — is believed to be Arkansas’ second-largest ever for an exhibition game, trailing only the 20,002 who saw the Razorbacks take on the Arkansas Express on Nov. 20, 1993, according to HogStats. That was the first game in the building.

“20,000 people before Halloween – I don’t know many places that can do that,” Musselman said about Saturday’s crowd. “I really don’t. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of anticipation. The good thing is everybody that was here was entertained.”

Throw in the fact that it was a competitive game between the No. 3 and No. 14 teams in the preseason AP Poll and it felt a lot more like March than October inside Bud Walton Arena.

“I thought both teams treated the game like a mid-season game,” Musselman said. “It felt like an NCAA Tournament vibe to be honest.”


More from the aftermath of Arkansas vs Purdue here:

Other Charity Exhibition Scores Around the SEC

Here are a few other scores of charity exhibition games involving teams from the SEC over the weekend.

  • Wake Forest 88, Alabama 80 (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
  • Tennessee 89, Michigan State 88 (East Lansing, Mich.)
  • Texas Tech 89, Texas A&M 84 (Denton, Texas)

Arkansas vs Purdue Highlights

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Arkansas vs Purdue Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Purdue Box Score


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