The reason behind it varied depending on who you asked, but a defensive collapse is what cost Arkansas basketball Saturday afternoon.
What has traditionally been a strength turned into a “major, major issue” after halftime, as the No. 15 Razorbacks gave up a whopping 63 second-half points and lost to Vanderbilt 97-84 inside Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tenn.
It was the most second-half points Arkansas has allowed since Jan. 6, 1996, when Auburn scored 64, according to HogStats.
“I’ve coached a lot of games and can’t remember a defensive team giving up 63 points in a half,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “As the game progressed, the competitive nature slipped, so you get the results of a team scoring 97 points on you, and a team that scored 63 in a half.
“We lost the second half by 21 points, so I would say, from a competitive standpoint, we have to be much more competitive.”
Later in his brief postgame Zoom interview with reporters, Musselman reiterated that he was disappointed with the competitiveness. When asked about his level of concern regarding that aspect of the game, the veteran coach struggled to find the right words before simply saying, “97 points is a lot of points in a college game to give up”
However, leading scorer Ricky Council IV didn’t sound like he agreed with his coach’s assessment. He acknowledged that he still needed to watch the film, but pinned it more on Vanderbilt’s ability to knock down shots from deep and get to the charity stripe.
“I wouldn’t say so,” Council said. “Everyone has their own opinion. I do feel like we were fouling a lot — if they were bad calls or not, which they probably were, I’ve got to watch the game over. When they weren’t hitting 3s, they were getting to the free throw line almost every possession, so it was really tough. I don’t think our intensity slipped.”
Council had a point, as the Commodores opened the half on a tear, knocking down 14 of their first 18 shots, including 6 of 7 from beyond the arc — all within the first 12 minutes of the half.
They cooled off some, but still shot 69.2% (18 of 26) from the field and consistently got to the free throw line, where they went 21 of 23 in the second half.
“Our style and our pace gives us a chance no matter what or who we’re playing,” Vanderbilt head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “I just thought when we moved the ball and we shared the ball, we made the open looks we got.”
Arkansas led by eight at halftime and extended it to 10 early in the second half thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers — the second of which was by Makhi Mitchell, who hadn’t even attempted one this season. However, in a span of about 10 minutes, that 10-point lead became a 14-point deficit, as the Commodores chipped away at it before using a 20-3 run to take firm control of the game.
Tyrin Lawrence entered the day as Vanderbilt’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 9.6 points, but had a team-high 22 points against the Razorbacks. He racked up that total by driving past defenders and making layups or getting fouled, plus he made both of his 3-point attempts.
He was actually one of two Commodores to go 2 of 2 from beyond the arc, as Colin Smith also did it. They came into the game shooting just 27.8% and 31.0%, respectively, from 3-point range.
“I thought Lawrence dominated us off the dribble,” Musselman said. “The scouting report was no dribble drives left, and he continually went left and blew by us. Taking away the 3 was what we discussed the last three days, and they made 10 threes.”
The result was a third straight loss — all by double digits — for Arkansas, which is now 1-4 in SEC play. It’s the first time in eight seasons as a college head coach that Musselman has lost three straight games by a double-digit margin.
The Razorbacks also fell from No. 11 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating to No. 22 with the performance.
“All’s we can do is get ready and prepare for Missouri like we prepared in the past,” Musselman said. “That’s all we can do. That’s what we’ll do.”
Chippy First Half
While Arkansas’ defense — or lack thereof — was the story of the second half, the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s matchup were dominated by the chippy nature of the game.
It started with about six minutes left in the half when the officials issued a double technical to Vanderbilt’s Jordan Wright and Arkansas’ Kamani Johnson on a sideline in-bounds play that featured a mini-scuffle. After a replay review, Johnson’s was elevated to a Flagrant 1.
Then, with 49.8 seconds left in the half and the Razorbacks trying to respond to back-to-back 3s by the Commodores, Anthony Black drove to the basket and made a tough layup through contact.
With Quentin Millora-Brown laying on the ground, Black tried to step over him and Vanderbilt took exception to it. Ezra Manjon shoved him in the back, causing him to fall over Millora-Brown, and players eventually had to be separated.
Following a replay review, Manjon received two technicals and was ejected. When the official told the coaches of the decision, Stackhouse was visibly upset and earned a technical himself.
When play finally resumed, Arkansas got seven straight free throws — the first by Black to complete the 3-point play and then six by Ricky Council IV for the three technical fouls. He made four of them, so it was a seven-point possession that gave the Razorbacks a 10-point lead.
Asked about the sequence after the game, Musselman didn’t say much other than it was “irrelevant in the outcome of the game,” but Stackhouse did elaborate.
“It just happens,” Stackhouse said. “I appreciate what Ezra did — saw his teammate on the floor and he stepped up for him. That’s what these guys are about, stepping up for their brothers.”
He added that he didn’t think Manjon’s actions warranted an ejection, but rather just a single technical, and that he thought Black should have received a technical for instigating it.
Despite Musselman’s comment about it not impacting the outcome, Stackhouse said the moment — and perhaps also Black’s crying taunt that followed — “rallied us.” Sure enough, Vanderbilt out-scored the Razorbacks 65-42 from that point on.
Ricky Council Bounces Back
If there was one silver lining in the loss to Vanderbilt, it was the performance of Ricky Council IV.
The Wichita State transfer burst onto the scene with a strong non-conference showing, even garnering some talk as a potential first-round pick.
That has certainly quieted down some since the start of SEC play. Although his scoring average had dipped by only 1.5 points through the first four conference games (18.3 ppg to 16.8 ppg), Council has been much for inefficient. His field goal percentage dropped from 51.6% in non-conference play to 33.9% against SEC foes.
Against the Commodores, though, Council looked like his old self. He scored a game-high 24 points and did it on 8-of-12 shooting. Even more encouraging than that was the fact he knocked down 3 of 6 attempts from beyond the arc.
“I was just locked in,” Council said. “I had a lot of conversations with the coaching staff and my teammates. Just trying to be a good teammate out there today and not force much. That was the result, but obviously not enough.”
The only other time Council has made three 3s in a game this season was against Louisville, when he was 3 of 7.
Liam Robbins Dominates 2nd Half
For the second straight game, Arkansas not only held its opponent’s leading scorer scoreless in the first half, but he didn’t take a single shot.
Unlike in the Alabama game, when Brandon Miller’s slow start was the result of great defense by Davonte Davis, Vanderbilt’s Liam Robbins didn’t really have a chance to do much damage in the first half.
The 7-footer came off the bench and promptly picked up two quick fouls and was replaced after just 42 seconds on the floor. The only stats he recorded were the two fouls and a turnover, as one of the fouls came on the offensive end.
Much like Miller earlier in the week, Robbins needed just 18 seconds in the second half to get on the board, opening the half with an old-fashioned 3-point play.
“I thought Robbins was absolutely incredible in the second half,” Musselman said. “I mean, he scored 14 points in probably 15 minutes in that second half. I thought he was a dominant force. We did want to go at him and try to get him in foul trouble, which we did in the first half.”
He ended up scoring 14 points — just over his season average of 13.2 — on 4 of 5 shooting. In addition to being a perfect 5 of 5 from the line, Robbins also buried a 3-pointer and blocked three shots before fouling out with 1:48 left.
“I can’t come out and play passive,” Robbins said. “That’s not going to help anyone. … I went out there, I wasn’t going to change anything because I was in foul trouble. I was going to do what they told me to do, play hard, play aggressive and everything else would take care of itself.”
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- For the second straight game, Eric Musselman tweaked his starting lineup. While Makhel Mitchell made his second straight start, Ricky Council IV was back in the lineup after coming off the bench against Alabama. He replaced Jordan Walsh in the starting five.
- It isn’t as bad as Arkansas, but Vanderbilt came into the game shooting 32.5% from 3-point range this season and just 28.8% in SEC play. That’s how it was going early on, as the Commodores made on 2 of their first 7, but then they rattled off seven straight over about an eight-minute stretch that spanned the end of the first half and start of the second half. They ended up shooting 55.6% (10 of 18) for the game.
- The Razorbacks entered the day as one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country, grabbing 79.8% of the available boards. That ranked seventh in Division I. On Saturday, though, they gave up 15 offensive rebounds — including 11 in the first half — and had a defensive rebounding percentage of only 60.5%. That led to 14 second-chance points for the Commodores.
- Play had to be halted at one point in the closing seconds of the first half because someone — not a player — needed medical attention on the baseline.
Arkansas vs Vanderbilt Highlights
Arkansas vs Vanderbilt Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Vanderbilt Box Score
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