FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has never been beaten worse at Bud Walton Arena than it was in Saturday afternoon’s SEC opener.
With an opportunity to add a quality win to an NCAA Tournament resume that desperately needs them, the Razorbacks were run out of their own building by No. 25 Auburn in an 83-51 blowout that was also the most lopsided loss of Eric Musselman’s tenure.
“That’s a pretty bold statement, and it’s factual,” Musselman said when informed it was the school’s largest loss in the building it’s called home since 1993-94. “I don’t know what it means to that locker room. I know what it means to me.
“I know the history of this program. I have incredible respect for everybody that’s coached here, everybody that’s played here. That’s a ‘wow’ statement.”
It was Arkansas’ largest margin of defeat anywhere since a 32-point shellacking at Mississippi State in 2016 and, perhaps most damning, its largest in Fayetteville since 1951. That year, the Razorbacks lost by 35 to the Phillips 66ers, an AAU team based in Bartlesville, Okla.
After trailing by only seven at halftime, Arkansas crumbled in the second half. The Tigers led by double-digits for the final 16:39 and by at least 20 for the final 8:26.
Auburn’s leading scorer, Johni Broome (15.8 ppg), missed all four of his shots and was scoreless in the first half, but asserted his dominance after halftime by scoring 14 points on 7 of 9 shooting. Eight of those came in the early 10-0 run by the Tigers that put the game away.
The large scoring discrepancy can almost entirely be boiled down to production inside, as the Tigers out-scored the Razorbacks 48-18 in the paint. Many of those points were quite easy, either on uncontested layups or Auburn’s six dunks. They also beat Arkansas down the floor multiple times for easy transition buckets.
“When you lose by 30, we could go all the way around the room and each of you could pick a different area and you would all be right,” Musselman told reporters. “We stunk in all areas. I mean, transition defense, what about Johni Broome in the second half — I could go on and on. Yeah, we stunk.”
It was not an encouraging performance for a team that appeared to turn a corner in its last 1.5 games with newly eligible point guard Keyon Menifield Jr. leading the charge.
Instead of carrying those good vibes into SEC play, the Arkansas basketball team looked more like the Arkansas football team when Auburn came to Fayetteville in November. The Razorbacks seemed to right the ship with a thrilling win at Florida and still had an outside chance of making a bowl game, only for the Tigers to crush them 48-10 at Razorback Stadium.
That signaled Sam Pittman’s team letting go of the rope. It ultimately lost its final two SEC games by a combined score of 96-24, limping to a 4-8 overall record and last-place finish.
Luckily for the basketball team, Musselman has much more experience as a head coach and a proven track record of overcoming struggles to succeed in March, including reaching three straight Sweet 16s. Presumably, if anyone can figure out how to turn this season around, it’s him.
However, some of his answers in the postgame press conference were only slightly less concerning than Pittman’s repeated “I don’t know” throughout the 2023 season.
“How would I know?” Musselman said when asked if the Razorbacks’ issues were fixable. “All I know is I’ve got to try to talk about them and address them.”
If those things aren’t addressed and actually corrected, things could get ugly over the next 17 SEC games. Musselman admitted that the Razorbacks must “get a lot better to even survive in this league.”
His previous squads have done just that when they’ve hit midseason skids, but this year’s team – which came into the day at No. 92 in the NET rankings and will drop after Saturday’s beatdown – feels different. That’s not only for fans, but also the head coach.
“This team has not resembled what we’ve built the last four years from a competitive standpoint, from a defensive standpoint, from a loose-ball getting standpoint,” Musselman said. “We built something that I thought was really special, and this group of guys has not carried on the tradition.”
Outside Criticism & Damning Admission
There was plenty of blame to go around Saturday, but perhaps the most surprising poor showing was from Davonte Davis.
A team leader coming off what was considered by many, including Eric Musselman, as his best game of the year, the senior managed only 2 points on 0 of 4 shooting (2 of 2 free throws), 1 rebound, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 25 minutes off the bench. The Razorbacks were minus-22 with him on the floor, which was their worst individual plus-minus of the game.
His play was specifically singled out by ESPN2 color analyst Jimmy Dykes late in the second half.
“He is an explosive defensive player and he’s got to make sure he stays grounded in that part of it,” Dykes said. “But there has not been a guy that’s been in charge of this team today with their voice, with their body language, matching the physical play. They got caught up in the jawing early. Arkansas cannot be what they’re capable of being with Devo Davis being a no-show like he has been.”
Of course, he wasn’t the only one who struggled.
Makhi Mitchell posted a minus-20 in just 9 minutes of play, Chandler Lawson didn’t have a single rebound and turned it over twice in 12 minutes, Jalen Graham was only 2 of 8 shooting and Khalif Battle scored just 4 points.
Worse than any of those stat lines, though, was something Keyon Menifield Jr. admitted in the postgame press conference.
“It feels like we quit,” Menifield said. “We didn’t play as a team and we weren’t together out there. So when you’re not together and you don’t have fight out there and let people punk you, that’s what happens.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
Things don’t get much easier for Arkansas basketball, as its next two games are away from home. The road trip begins Wednesday with an 8 p.m. CT tip at Georgia – a game that will be televised on ESPNU.
The Bulldogs opened SEC play with a road win at Missouri, beating the Tigers 75-68 for their ninth straight win to improve to 11-3.
With classes not starting until the next week, Arkansas will stay on the road and head straight to Gainesville, Fla., for a matchup with Florida on Saturday.
It’s a critical stretch for the Razorbacks, who have now lost their SEC opener in three straight seasons. They’re trying to avoid yet another slow start to conference play, as they started 1-5 last year, 0-3 the year before that and 2-4 in the 2020-21 season.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Keyon Menifield Jr. was once again Arkansas’ leading scorer with 14 points. He added 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 steal while committing 2 turnovers in 31 minutes.
- West Memphis native Chris Moore started for Auburn, but played only 14 minutes. He turned it over twice early on, including a travel on the game’s opening possession, and went scoreless, with his only positive stats being 1 rebound and 1 steal.
- The Razorbacks came into Saturday’s game shooting a solid 72.2% from the free throw line, but went just 2 of 7 from the charity stripe in the first half. Even after going 6 of 8 in the second half, they still shot just 53.3% for the game.
- Arkansas attempted 24 shots from beyond the arc, its most 3-point attempts since taking 30 in the opener against Alcorn State. It made just seven of them, which means it shot 29.2% – below its season percentage of 34.8%.
- Former Arkansas basketball star Michael Qualls was in the building for the game and received a loud ovation before tipoff.
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Arkansas vs Auburn Box Score
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