Seemingly on its way to a third straight appearance in the SEC Tournament semifinals, Arkansas basketball suffered a frustratingly familiar fate Friday night.
The Razorbacks squandered a 13-point halftime lead and were eliminated from the event with a 67-61 loss to Texas A&M at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
It was the fifth time this year that Arkansas has lost after building a double-digit lead earlier in the game and the second time it happened against the Aggies — and that doesn’t even include several close calls, such as when it blew a 15-point lead the night before against Auburn, but found a way to win.
“I mean, that’s kind of what we’ve been doing all year,” Anthony Black said. “The last time we played them, did the same thing. We got to stop doing that.”
Capped by a banked in 3-pointer from Jordan Walsh, the Razorbacks took a 38-25 lead into halftime. They shot 54.2% (13 of 24) in the first half, including 5 of 12 (41.7%) from beyond the arc.
That completely changed after the break, as Arkansas shot just 30% (9 of 30) from the floor and missed all eight of its 3-pointers.
“I think we took better shots in the first half, just easier shots, high-level shots,” Black said. “In the second half, they just started flying around on defense. We just got to throwing the ball away and missing shots.”
The Aggies fought back by outscoring the Razorbacks 21-7 in the first 10 minutes of the half. They were led by Henry Coleman III, who scored 11 of Texas A&M’s first 15 points.
“I thought it was good, but it really wasn’t the offensive end, it was the defensive end,” Coleman said. “We were able to get three stops in a row, kind of able to turn them over, start playing Texas A&M basketball. The offense was a result of our defense.”
There were a few lead changes after that run, but the Aggies went ahead for good on a bucket by Julius Marble with 7:42 remaining.
While blowing leads is nothing new for Arkansas this season, it was perhaps the most extreme case of it because it was a 13-point margin at halftime. According to HogStats, the Razorbacks had won 78 straight games with a halftime lead of at least that much.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened in a second half,” Musselman said. “We’re young. I mean, halftime speech has been the same for the last eight years. Adjustment has been the same. We’re just a young team. Winning and closing games, it’s not easy for teams. Tonight was an example of that again for us.”
Nick Smith Jr Starts Hot, Shut Down Late
Less than 24 hours after making the shot that sent Arkansas basketball to the quarterfinals, Nick Smith Jr picked up where he left off by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the game.
He had nine points within the first six minutes, helping the Razorbacks build the aforementioned double-digit lead, and appeared to be on pace for a historic scoring night. Although he slowed down a bit, Smith still had 13 points on 5 of 10 shooting in the first half.
Much like the entire team, it was a different story after halftime. He scored just three points and made only 1 of 10 shots in the second half.
“Just continue to just stay in the drive,” Wade Taylor IV said about the key to slowing him down. “He’s a phenomenal player, really helps their team. He’s very long. Just try to stay in the drive, making his shots pretty much tougher.”
Smith finished with a team-high 16 points, but did so on an inefficient 6 of 20 shooting.
In addition to leading the SEC in free throw percentage, Texas A&M also leads all of Division I in free throws attempted and made per game. That was on display Friday, as the Aggies consistently drew fouls in the second half to aid their comeback.
After attempting only two free throws in the first half and not even getting into the bonus, Texas A&M actually drew the first six fouls of the second half and was in the bonus with 11:07 remaining.
The result was the Aggies going 16 of 22 (72.7%) from the charity stripe after halftime, accounting for 38.1% of their total second-half points.
“Second half, the 6-0 foul count took away our aggressiveness I thought defensively,” Musselman said. “But again, I give A&M total credit for how hard they played and for changing the complexion of the game the last 20 minutes of play.”
Dominated on the Boards
One of the major keys to Arkansas’ success against Auburn on Thursday was the fact that it dominated the Tigers on the glass. The Razorbacks out-rebounded them 37-19 and actually grabbed half of the available offensive boards, leading to 18 second-chance points.
That flipped on Arkansas against Texas A&M, as the Aggies were plus-17 in rebounding. They nearly grabbed half of the available offensive boards, finishing with 17 compared to Arkansas’ 18 defensive rebounds. That led to 15 second-chance points.
Henry Coleman III led the way with a game-high 11 rebounds, giving him a double-double because he also scored 16 points.
“We just went into halftime talking about the things we can control, trying to control the controllables,” Wade Taylor IV said. “We were doing tremendous on the offensive glass. I think they only had maybe two offensive rebounds. So we were doing pretty good on the defensive glass, too.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
Eliminated from the SEC Tournament, the Razorbacks now must await their destination in the NCAA Tournament. They’ll find out who, when and where they play next on Selection Sunday, with the selection show scheduled for 5 p.m. CT on CBS.
With a 20-12 overall record and No. 22 ranking in the NET, Arkansas basketball is a lock to make the field of 68, with most believing it’ll be an 8 or 9 seed. It is an 8 seed on BracketMatrix.
“I feel like one of the main focuses going in college basketball is being able to compete at the highest level, which is March Madness,” Jordan Walsh said. “Some say it’s the greatest feeling you could have in your life. I’m just glad that we have a chance to be able to get there.”
Potential first-round destinations include Orlando, Fla.; Birmingham, Ala.; Des Moines, Iowa; Sacramento, Calif.; Albany, N.Y.; Greensboro, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; and Denver, Colo.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- For just the fifth time in 33 games, Ricky Council IV was held to single-digit scoring, as he finished with 5 points on 1 of 7 shooting while being limited to 19 minutes because of early foul trouble. It was his second straight game scoring less than 10, something he didn’t do at all during the regular season. “I did put him back in to try to help him get going a little bit,” Musselman said. “We need Ricky to carry (us). He’s been our leading scorer all season long. Tonight, again, just the foul trouble I thought affected his aggressiveness.”
- If there was a bright spot in the game, it was the play of Makhi Mitchell. He finished with 15 points on a perfect 6 of 6 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 steals and 1 assist. It was his second straight solid game, as he also had 12 points and 6 rebounds against Auburn. That’s a good sign because he averaged just 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds over the final four games of the regular season.
- As a team, the Razorbacks blocked 11 shots Friday night. That is tied for the fourth-most ever, by any team, in the SEC Tournament. In addition to Mitchell, Anthony Black — a point guard — had four.
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Arkansas vs Texas A&M Box Score
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