It will go down as a win in the record book, but no one in the Arkansas basketball program is leaving North Little Rock happy about what unfolded Saturday night.
The Razorbacks narrowly avoided blowing a 20-point lead inside Simmons Bank Arena, hanging on for a tight 69-66 win over Lipscomb.
Despite being without their top two scorers, the Bisons had multiple opportunities to take the lead down the stretch, but failed to convert. That included a couple of good looks at game-tying 3s by Owen McCormack inside the final 15 seconds, which didn’t fall.
Fans inside Arkansas’ home away from home — and watching online — were able to exhale after the Razorbacks avoided picking up another resume-killing loss, but head coach Eric Musselman didn’t even reward himself with that luxury.
“I just know we’ve got a lot of work (to do),” head coach Eric Musselman said. “I’d be not telling the truth if I said I was relieved. I’m disappointed.”
For 30 minutes, it seemed like Arkansas was going to turn it into a rout. The Razorbacks extended their lead to 20 midway through the second half and it was still an 18-point game when Tramon Mark knocked down a jumper with 9:19 remaining.
However, it would be another six-plus minutes before Arkansas scored again. During that drought, Lipscomb went on a 17-0 run.
An issue that has plagued the Razorbacks all year once again reared its ugly head, as the Bisons routinely got to the basket for easy points. They also grabbed six offensive rebounds in that stretch, leading to six of those 17 points.
“As they went on their run, we just got sloppy,” Mark said. “They started getting more and more open looks, more driving lanes for layups. We really didn’t have any rotations on their drives and on their 5-man that was popping and shooting.”
While Mark pointed to the defensive end, Musselman was most unhappy about how Arkansas handled things on the other end of the floor, where it missed all seven of its shots and turned it over twice during that big Lipscomb run.
“In the past we’ve done a really good job of milking the shot clock when we get up like that,” Musselman said. “A lot of people don’t understand it. Tonight’s a great example of why you do it. I let them play. Should have clock-managed better. Again, you think with a veteran team you’ll be able to get good shots on goal. That wasn’t the case tonight.”
Makhi Mitchell ended the run when he scored off a nice pass from Davonte Davis with 3:01 remaining. He scored again about a minute later when Jeremiah Davenport came up with a steal and pushed it up the floor for a fastbreak layup.
Both of those buckets gave Arkansas a 3-point lead, as did Davis’ driving layup with 26 seconds left – even though it was one of those quick shots Musselman wasn’t happy about.
“He made the shot, so it turns out great for us,” Musselman said. “He’s an aggressive downhill guy, and he’s done that in the past for us late in games. It was a big basket.”
Luckily for the Razorbacks, Lipscomb didn’t get a clutch shot like that.
Not only did the Bisons miss all seven of its potential tying or go-ahead shots in the final five minutes, but they also turned it over once when trailing by just 1. Their final miss was at the buzzer after Layden Blocker missed the front end of a 1 and 1.
That helped Arkansas hang on for what was one of the most uninspiring wins of the Eric Musselman era, as it comes amid a rough start to a season that already includes four losses – one of which was at home against UNC Greensboro.
“We’re trying to figure out who we are, plain and simple,” Musselman said. “We’re trying to figure out who we can rely on on a nightly basis. Who plays with consistency? Who can react to loose balls? Who can defensive rebound? Who can keep the ball in front of them? There’s a lot of things we are searching for.”
The Graham Conundrum Returns
One of Arkansas’ best players Saturday was Jalen Graham.
Now seemingly fully recovered from the back spasms that limited him early in the season, the big man turned in his best game of the year. He finished with 11 points on an efficient 5 of 6 shooting, blocked two shots and even dished an assist.
However, he threw the ball away with 10:15 remaining and was immediately replaced. Despite it being his only turnover, Graham never came back in.
“I thought Graham was pretty good, and then we had a couple turnovers from Graham in the middle of the zone,” Musselman said. “That’s why we went to (Makhi Mitchell) to try to get our center out of the middle of the zone to get our center back down to the dunker spot.”
This situation is nothing new for Arkansas basketball fans, who remember the Arizona State transfer flashing as an offensive threat last season, only to not get consistent minutes because of struggles in other areas of the game.
On Saturday, that was Graham’s efforts on the boards, as he grabbed just one rebound in his 15 minutes of action.
“Jalen Graham is such a gifted, skilled offensive player, but we need him to defensive rebound,” Musselman said. “He had one rebound tonight, and we feel like he can rebound more per minute than what we’re getting.”
Even with his lack of rebounding, Arkansas was still plus-8 with Graham on the floor, compared to minus-5 with him on the bench. That’s what made Musselman’s decision to keep him there during Lipscomb’s 17-0 run all the more peculiar.
An academic issue was initially believed to keep Keyon Menifield Jr. on the sideline all year, but the UA announced Friday that he received a waiver and lifted his redshirt.
The Washington transfer was available to play in the Arkansas vs Lipscomb matchup and the coaches planned to give him 15-20 minutes. Everything worked out and he ended up playing 19 minutes.
Nothing about his stat line will jump off the page, as Menifield finished with only 2 points on 1 of 3 shooting, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, but it was still a nice boost for the Razorbacks.
“I thought it was important to get him in the game,” Musselman said. “He’s active, he’s bouncy. He is a reactor to loose balls. It’s hard to be thrown into a game 10 games in, but I think his quickness, his willingness to be a ball distributor can help us.”
Menifield’s lone bucket came with about four minutes left in the first half, when he hustled to grab an air ball and put it back up.
“I’m just really excited for him, just everything he’s been through — not playing and knowing you should be out there,” teammate Tramon Mark said. “Now that he’s finally out there, I know it’s a good feeling for him and it’s a good feeling for the team, just working him back in, getting more reps in practice and just doing all that stuff.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks’ penultimate non-conference game of the season is scheduled for next Thursday against Abilene Christian.
With a home game against UTEP still looming (3 p.m. CT Sunday, ESPN+), the Wildcats are 4-6 and ranked No. 230 in the NET. One of those wins was at Oklahoma State to open the season.
Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT inside Bud Walton Arena and on the SEC Network.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- The announced attendance for Arkansas vs Lipscomb was 16,361, which is slightly less than last year’s attendance of 16,675 for a game against Bradley. Prior to those two games, though, the Razorbacks had eclipsed 16,000 fans in just one of the previous 19 games in North Little Rock.
- With the win, Arkansas improved to 14-10 all-time inside the venue formerly known as Alltel Arena and Verizon Arena. That includes six wins in the last seven games.
- The game was delayed about 15 minutes because the main lights inside Simmons Bank Arena would not turn back on after pregame introductions. They actually played the first few minutes in dim lighting before they all powered back up.
- Tramon Mark finished with a game-high 17 points, but most of his damage was done in the first half. He scored 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting, including three straight 3s, in 15 minutes. The second half was a different story, as Mark went just 1 of 6 from the floor in 16 minutes.
- With 4:06 left in the first half, a double technical was assessed on Lipscomb’s Owen McCormack and Arkansas’ Davonte Davis. McCormack appeared to intentionally trip Makhi Mitchell, prompting his technical, and Davis got his when he got in his face in retaliation. The Razorbacks have been whistled for 11 technical fouls in 11 games this season.
- Among those in attendance were a pair of Razorbacks who are now part of the Little Rock basketball program — Makhel Mitchell and Darrell Walker. Mitchell joined the Trojans as a transfer this offseason and was there supporting his twin brother, Makhi, while Walker was a legendary player at Arkansas and is now the Trojans’ head coach.
Arkansas vs Lipscomb Highlights
Arkansas vs Lipscomb Box Score
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