Even after squandering another double-digit lead, the Arkansas basketball team still had a chance to force overtime in the closing seconds Saturday afternoon.
However, the contested 3-pointer by Ricky Council IV at the buzzer was off the mark and the Razorbacks’ comeback bid came up short in an 86-83 loss to No. 2 Alabama at Coleman Coliseum.
It was a valiant rally by Arkansas, which found itself down by 12 with less than three minutes remaining, but there just wasn’t enough time left to overcome the hole it dug itself earlier in the second half.
“It’s a man’s game,” Nick Smith Jr. said. “We’ve got to come out in the second half ready to play, and we weren’t ready to play. Simple.”
The Razorbacks led by as many as 11 late in the first half and took a nine-point lead into the locker room thanks to a baseline jumper by Smith in the closing seconds of the half.
However, the Crimson Tide immediately started chipping away at that lead after halftime. It was still a five-point game when Anthony Black knocked down a pair of free throws with 15:55 remaining, but it’d be more than five minutes until Arkansas scored again.
Davonte Davis finally ended the 5-minute, 29-second drought with a jumper, at which point Alabama led by 10. During that stretch, the Razorbacks missed six shots from the floor and four free throws while turning it over three times.
Musselman was particularly frustrated with Arkansas’ performance at the charity stripe, where it was just 12 of 20 in the second half. Meanwhile, Alabama went on a 15-0 run to take firm control of a game it had led for just about one minute in the first 26 minutes of play.
“Obviously we weren’t converting enough baskets either,” Musselman said. “And Alabama probably out of all the teams in the country, even teams like Houston and other great teams, they probably have the ability to put together spurts as well as any team in the country.”
The Razorbacks were finally able to get something going on offense late in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome that earlier stretch.
In the final three minutes, the trio of Smith, Davis and Ricky Council IV managed to knock down some free throws and get to the rim for layups, with Davis and Smith each hitting a 3. A missed free throw by Rylan Griffen with 7.8 seconds left gave Arkansas a glimmer of hope, but it was out of timeouts and Council had to quickly push the ball up the floor before firing up a shot that hit the back iron.
“There was probably a time when it didn’t look like we would be able to have the ball with a chance to put the game into overtime,” Musselman said. “But I thought our guys executed and had really, really good time management.”
Unfortunately for Arkansas, it was a familiar ending. The Razorbacks also had last-second chances that came up empty in three-point losses to Creighton, LSU, Missouri and Baylor — all of which have been away from Bud Walton Arena.
Not included in those close losses was an earlier defeat at the hands of Alabama earlier in the season in Fayetteville. The final margin was 15 points, but it was a two-point game until the final few minutes when the Crimson Tide pulled away.
“I thought we were better today against Alabama than we were in Bud Walton,” Musselman said. “Tonight it was the five-minute stretch in the second half, and last game it was the last 4:30 at Bud Walton. But I think we’ve played Alabama, even though we’re 0-2, we’ve played them well.”
Take Away One, Give Up the Other
A major part of the Razorbacks’ game plan Saturday was to limit Alabama’s effectiveness from beyond the arc. The Crimson Tide entered the day averaging 10.4 three-pointers, which ranked seventh nationally, but didn’t come close to that against Arkansas.
Alabama ended up just 3 of 22 (13.6%) from deep, which was its worst performance in that area since the season opener against Longwood on Nov. 7. In that game, the Crimson Tide were 3 of 28 from distance. They had made at least five in every game since.
Where they made up for those struggles was in the paint, where they outscored Arkansas 52-38. According to HogStats, it was the most paint points the Razorbacks have given up since Northwestern State had 54 in a game on Dec. 28, 2014.
“Well, you’re not going to take away both,” Musselman said. “You’re not going to do it. That’s why they’re ranked second in the country. … We felt like if we could take away the three that it would put us in position to possibly win the game.”
According to the official stat broadcast, Alabama was 19 of 31 on layups and made four dunks. It was effective when it came to scoring at the rim.
“We just had some miscommunications on a lot of them, me included,” Nick Smith Jr. said. “We’ve just got to get better and see what happens.”
Foul Troubles Arise Again
It managed to clean them up lately, but issues with foul trouble came up again for Arkansas basketball on Saturday.
While Jordan Walsh has been the most frequent victim of that and he did foul out against Alabama, he did so after playing 34 minutes. Instead, it was a surprise violator: Anthony Black.
The freshman point guard picked up his first foul just 14 seconds into the game and picked up his second about four minutes later. That led to Black not playing the final 15.5 minutes of the first half.
He managed to play the first 15 minutes or so of the second half while committing only one foul, but picked up his fourth and fifth fouls just 14 seconds apart with a little more than four minutes to play.
Even when he was on the court, Black didn’t look like his usual self. He finished with 7 points on 2 of 7 shooting and had only 2 rebounds and 2 assists with 3 turnovers in 16 minutes. On top of that, Black was a team-worst minus-11 in the plus-minus stat, meaning Arkansas actually outscored Alabama by four in the 24 minutes he was on the bench.
“I thought they pressured him, and I thought there was a couple of fouls off the ball,” Musselman said. “But AB, he struggled tonight. The foul trouble certainly attributed to that in the first half.”
Brandon Miller’s Distasteful Introduction
Alabama star freshman Brandon Miller, considered to be the SEC Player of the Year frontrunner, has been the center of controversy this week.
Testimony during a preliminary bond hearing in the murder case involving former teammate Darius Miles revealed the Miller was at the scene of the crime and actually brought the gun used to kill Jamea Harris on Jan. 15.
His attorney released a statement this week that he was unaware that the gun was in his vehicle and denied allegations that his car blocked in the victim’s vehicle. Miller has not been charged with a crime and Alabama has opted against a suspension, allowing him to play in the two games since those details emerged.
Saturday was his first home game since then. Miller received a loud ovation during pregame introductions, which included teammate Adam Cotrell acting like he’s patting him down to check for weapons. It’s the same thing the pair have done all year, but appeared to be in poor taste given the week’s news.
After the game, Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats — who has received his fair share of criticism this week — told reporters that he was unaware of what he did before the game, but it wouldn’t happen again.
“I don’t watch our introductions,” Oats said. “I’m not involved with them. I’m drawing up plays during that time. Regardless, it’s not appropriate. It’s been addressed, and I can assure you it definitely will not happen again the remainder of this year.”
On the court, Miller continued to play at a high level. Even with lockdown defender Davonte Davis guarding him well and limiting him from 3, he could still get his shots off and scored at an elite level.
He finished with a team-high 24 points on 8 of 15 shooting — including 1 of 6 from deep — and a perfect 7 of 7 from the free throw line, plus added six rebounds.
Next Up for Arkansas Basketball
Things don’t get any easier for Arkansas basketball, which now must travel to Knoxville, Tenn., for a showdown with No. 11 Tennessee.
The Volunteers are 21-8 overall and 10-6 in SEC play. They lost their second straight game Tuesday, falling to Texas A&M 68-63. It was also their fourth loss in five games and fifth in seven games. However, Tennessee got back in the win column with a dominant 85-45 win over South Carolina.
Tipoff of the Arkansas-Tennessee game is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT Tuesday. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Saturday marked just the second time Eric Musselman has lost to a team that had beaten him earlier in the season since becoming the Arkansas basketball coach. He is now 9-2 in those rematch games, with the first rematch loss coming against Mississippi State in his first season.
- In his second game back in the starting lineup, star freshman Nick Smith Jr. scored a team-high 24 points on 9 of 23 shooting, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, and 4 of 5 free throws. He also had 6 rebounds and 2 steals while playing all but 22 seconds in the game. He’s now averaging 17.7 points in games he starts.
- After struggling to score in the last few games, Davonte Davis had 21 points on 8 of 15 shooting, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. He had averaged just 6.3 points over the last four games.
- Ricky Council IV continues to shine in a sixth-man role, as he had 20 points off the bench Saturday afternoon. Since being taken out of the starting lineup in favor of Smith, he’s scored 15 points against Florida, 22 points against Georgia and now 20 against Alabama.
Arkansas vs Alabama Highlights
Arkansas vs Alabama Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Alabama Box Score
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…