Arkansas Breaks 94-Year-Old Record with Florida Loss But That May Not Be Most Incredible Stat

Arkansas basketball, Florida basketball, Arkansas vs Florida
photo credit: Florida Athletics

Arkansas can add another all-time worst to its growing list of “accomplishments” this season.

This one was a cumulative effort, with Saturday’s 90-68 blowout loss at Florida capping what has been a historically bad three-game skid for the Razorbacks.

Not only did the result drop it to 0-3 in SEC play, but throw in a 32-point loss to Auburn — which was historic in its own right — and a 10-point loss at Georgia, Arkansas has been outscored by 64 points its last three games.

That makes it the worst three-game skid, by scoring margin, in UA history, according to HogStats. It topped the Razorbacks’ combined 63-point margin against Missouri State and Sam Pittman’s alma mater, Pittsburg State (twice),  in January 1930 — the final three of five road games in six days.

Needless to say, this team hasn’t resembled any of head coach Eric Musselman’s first four teams at Arkansas, despite each of them experiencing rough stretches.

“We’ve been here four years and we’ve been a team that’s been super tough minded, we’ve been a team that competes, we’ve been a team that battles, we’ve been a team that has grit,” Musselman said. “We have not done that this year at all.”

On Saturday, the game was competitive for about three minutes before Florida took control of the game with a 22-2 run. The Razorbacks eventually got a few free throws, but they played an 8.5-minute stretch in which their only bucket was a Tramon Mark jumper.

Arkansas managed to keep things somewhat respectable in the first half, even pulling within nine a couple of times, but the Gators pulled away after halftime.

The final numbers were ugly, but nothing new for the Razorbacks. They shot just 37.7% from the floor, compared to 49.3% by the Gators. They were minus-17 on the boards and allowed 15 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 second-chance points for Florida. The Gators also scored 38 points in the paint.

Incredibly, through three SEC games, Arkansas has spent more time trailing by at least 20 points (18:50) than it has in the lead or tied (13:27). It’s trailed by double digits for nearly half — 48.6%, to be exact — of the 120 minutes of conference basketball this year.

While the past three teams managed to overcome their midseason struggles and reach the Sweet 16, this year’s Arkansas basketball team has dug itself such a deep hole that it has work to do simply to make the NIT — much less the NCAA Tournament.

“This group does not have the characteristics of our past four years,” Musselman said. “I mean, you can see that. We have a lot of holes in a lot of different areas. So our job as a staff will be to continue to do what we can, try to provide teaching points, to try to continue to give scouting reports that are effective. That’s what we’re supposed to do, is continue to try to get guys better and get the collective whole better.”

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

In the past, Eric Musselman has scoffed at the idea of running a zone defense. He is a man-to-man coach through and through.

On Saturday, though, he did the unthinkable. Midway through the first half, with his team in danger of getting run out of the gym by a Florida team that seemingly got to the rim at will, Musselman switched Arkansas’ defense to a matchup zone.

It was about as shocking as it would have been to see the late Mike Leach run the triple-option, or Army and Navy implement the Air Raid.

“I haven’t played zone at all since I’ve been in college,” Musselman said. “But we’re not guarding anybody one-on-one, so the thought process was to put (a) zone in yesterday to try to help us with dribble-drives.

“It helped for a little bit as a change of pace. It maybe slowed Florida down for a little bit, but just as with any zone and man, you’ve got to be able to guard either the guy in your area or the guy you’re assigned to, whether it’s man or zone. … This group just has not grasped concepts whether it’s man or you put in a zone.”

As Musselman said, it seemed to work some. The Razorbacks went on a mini-run and cut their 19-point deficit to 13 at the break. After scoring 27 points in the game’s first 10 minutes (a 108-point pace), Florida managed only 19 after the defensive switch (a more respectable 76-point pace).

However, the Gators kicked things into gear after halftime, scoring 44 points on 50% shooting.

Struggles at the Rim Continue

As bad as things looked at halftime, the game honestly should have been much closer than 46-33.

In fact, a case could be made that Arkansas should have held a slight lead if it just converted its opportunities at the rim. Instead, the Razorbacks went 3 of 13 on layups and 1 of 3 on dunks.

If they had made just half of their 12 misses, it would have been a 1-point game at the break rather than a 13-point margin. Throw in going just 5 of 11 at the free throw line and Arkansas left a lot of points on the floor.

Arkansas was a little better in the second half, but still finished the game 10 of 28 on layups and 3 of 5 on dunks. That means it shot just 39.4% at the rim.

“Did we do drills because we know that they go vertically really well? Absolutely we did,” Musselman said. “We had two different stations even this morning. So did we work on it? Did we talk about it? Yeah.”

Of course, saying the outcome could have been different if the Razorbacks were more efficient around the rim assumes they are actually capable of being more efficient around the rim.

Unfortunately, they haven’t shown they can do that this year.

In its three SEC games and five non-conference games against high-major opponents, Arkansas has finished less than half of its layups/dunks, going 90 of 181 on such attempts.

That percentage includes going 70 of 153 (45.8%) on layups and 20 of 28 (71.4%) on dunks.

“I can’t teach making dunks and layups,” Musselman said. “There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve got to do a better job with this group, but finishing around the rim, doing it with physicality, is something we gotta get better at. Sometimes you can help by diagramming a play and you get a guy in a scoring area, which is obviously in the paint, and then at some point you’ve got to finish in there, as well.”

OpponentLayupsDunksCombined
Stanford9 of 261 of 310 of 29
Memphis9 of 162 of 511 of 21
North Carolina8 of 151 of 19 of 16
Duke11 of 192 of 213 of 21
Oklahoma6 of 163 of 39 of 19
Auburn6 of 133 of 39 of 16
Georgia11 of 205 of 616 of 26
Florida10 of 283 of 513 of 33
TOTALS70 of 153
(45.8%)
20 of 28
(71.4%)
90 of 181
(49.7%)

The Lone Bright Spot(s)

The mini-run Arkansas made in the first half started with the switch to a zone defense, but it also corresponded with Eric Musselman subbing in two lightly used reserves – freshman Layden Blocker and sophomore Joseph Pinion.

The pair played a combined 8 minutes and 17 seconds in the Razorbacks’ first two SEC games, with Pinion not even coming off the bench in the previous game against Georgia, but got extended run against Florida.

“Younger players, when you’re not playing like you hope, that’s that the next thing you’re going to turn to as one of the alternatives after you’ve gone through about 15 other alternatives — which we’ve tried,” Musselman said. “I mean, we’ve tried a whole bunch of stuff. … We’re trying everything.”

Needless to say, they made the most of their playing time.

Blocker was the team’s leading scorer with a career-high 14 points on 4 of 7 shooting. He also drew five fouls and went 6 of 10 at the free throw line, plus added 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block.

Pinion scored five quick points for the Razorbacks and finished with 12, easily a season high. He shot 3 of 7 from the floor, including 2 of 4 from deep, and was a perfect 4 of 4 at the charity stripe.

“The one constant with Layden Blocker is that he plays really hard,” Musselman said. “And the one constant that Joseph Pinion has exhibited through two years is he will try, and he will try and run our offense and try to do things within the framework of who we are.”

Most impressively, despite Arkansas losing by 22 points, Blocker was plus-2 in his 24 minutes and Pinion was minus-1 in his 22 minutes.

The pair shared the court for 21 minutes and 30 seconds, during which the Razorbacks were outscored by only one point. That means they were outscored by 23 in the other 18 minutes and 30 seconds of the game. Averaged out over 40 minutes, they were just minus-1.9 with Blocker and Pinion on the court together and minus-49.7 when they weren’t.

“Honestly, I think the group — the second group he put out there — we did pretty good, especially in that first half,” Blocker said. “We came in there, brought energy. Got some stops, some steals, got some key buckets. … Overall as a team, I just feel like the energy. We came with that energy off the bench. And that’s what we need in the long run.”

There’s a good chance Pinion and Blocker get more minutes moving forward based on their play Saturday.

“Certainly those two young men tonight, because they played hard, we’ll probably look to go to them earlier than we have in some of these past games,” Musselman said. “At some point you’re going to play some guys. Certainly tonight that’s what I looked to do.”

Up Next for Arkansas Basketball

After a two-game road trip, Arkansas basketball returns to Bud Walton Arena for two games next week.

The first of those is against Texas A&M, which is coming off an overtime win over No. 6 Kentucky for its first SEC victory of the season. Like the Razorbacks, the Aggies have had a disappointing first half of the season after being picked to finish second in the SEC.

Texas A&M is led by Preseason SEC Player of the Year Wade Taylor IV, who dropped 31 points in the upset win over the Wildcats and is now averaging 18.2 points this season.

Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT Tuesday and the game will be televised on SEC Network.

Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits

  • With the loss, Arkansas basketball dropped to 0-3 in SEC play. It is one of just three teams still winless in conference play, with the others being Missouri and Vanderbilt.
  • For the fifth time in six games, Khalif Battle – the Razorbacks’ second-leading scorer – failed to reach double figures. In fact, he was held scoreless on 0 of 2 shooting in just 2 minutes of action in Arkansas vs Florida. After averaging 16.4 points over the first 10 games, Battle has averaged only 4.8 over the last seven, and that includes an 18-point performance against Abilene Christian.
  • Arkansas shot a respectable 72.2% from the free throw line during non-conference play, but after going 17 of 25 against Florida, that has dropped to 64.5% in its three SEC games. That’s the second-worst mark in the conference, ahead of only Mississippi State (63.2%).
  • Five different Gators reached double figures, led by Riley Kugel’s 20 points off the bench. He shot 8 of 14 from the floor, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, and went 2 of 2 at the free throw line on his way to nearly doubling his season average (10.9 ppg).

SEC Basketball Standings

TeamSEC RecordOverall Record
1. Auburn3-014-2
1. Alabama3-011-5
3. Ole Miss2-115-1
3. South Carolina2-114-2
3. Kentucky2-112-3
3. Tennessee2-112-4
3. Georgia2-112-4
3. LSU2-110-6
9. Mississippi State1-212-4
9. Florida1-211-5
9. Texas A&M1-211-5
12. Arkansas0-39-7
12. Missouri0-38-8
12. Vanderbilt0-35-11

Arkansas vs Florida Postgame Interviews

Arkansas vs Florida Box Score

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