To say that it’s okay for Arkansas basketball fans to be disappointed in the direction the team seems to be headed is, quite frankly, an understatement.
Losing to Vanderbilt is not the only disappointment that occurred in Nashville. Indeed, after the game, at least one writer, Kent Smith of Sports Illustrated’s All Hogs site, opined that Davonte Davis is basically fortunate not to spend time sitting in a jail cell after the game.
To be clear, that’s an overstatement on the level of saying a hurricane is coming to Fayetteville because dark clouds have formed over Old Main. If a player has gone to jail for defending a teammate on the field of play, or court in this case, it happens about as frequently as a Bigfoot sighting in Bud Walton Arena.
The first-half incident Smith wrote about ended up with Vanderbilt’s Ezra Manjon getting ejected, which was the right call. Manjon shoved an opponent in the back with the intent of causing physical harm. He got what he deserved.
Arkansas Basketball Let Off the Hook
Razorback guard Anthony Black, the one who was shoved, may not have. He suffered no consequences after triggering the whole incident with a minute left in the half and should have received at least a technical foul.
Black had made a good shot while he was getting fouled and earning an “and 1” situation, but then stood over the fallen Vanderbilt player, Quentin Millora-Brown, like Muhammed Ali stood over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston after knocking the native Arkansan down in the ring where throwing punches is the name of the game.
Black did something that happens countless times during a basketball season at the college level alone, not to mention the NBA, high school, junior high, etc. It’s not uncommon to see eight or nine of them happen in a single game. Nobody’s saying it’s not a big deal. It’s just not that rare.
After Manjon shoved Black, Davonte “Devo” Davis – who may or many not have seen what Black did to start the event – rushed to Black’s aid. Of Davis, Kent Smith wrote that the “look on his face was a dangerous one. Davis intended to legitimately hurt Manjon and it would have been bad in every way if a referee hadn’t stepped between the two.”
“He may be the smallest on the floor and has perhaps the most affable nature of anyone on the team, but he’s also the last Razorback anyone should dare mess with,” Smith continued. “Black trying to demean another human the way he did was bad enough, but had Davis been ejected or perhaps even faced criminal charges for what he was about to do in Black’s defense would have been unforgivable.”
An Inspired Vanderbilt Basketball Team
Black got to walk away from it all without so much as a foul of any kind being called, but then he further taunted the Vanderbilt bench with a “cry baby” gesture while he was at the line as if to say, “Stop crying about me dominating you.” Miraculously, he was not called on the carpet for those gestures either.
After making five of the ensuing seven free throws, the fun and games pretty much ended for Arkansas.
When the teams came back from halftime, Vanderbilt crushed the Hogs by scoring 63 points in the second half – the most Arkansas had allowed in a second half in 27 years. All of it resulted in a double-digit loss for the third game in a row. And they sure didn’t get any help from the refs.
For the game, the Hogs were awarded 24 free throw attempts to the Commodores’ 36. Arkansas committed 30 fouls to Vanderbilt’s 20.
The Commodores, no doubt feeling disrespected by the refs and the Hogs in the pre-halftime fracas, played with an intensity in the second half that would make Nolan Richardson proud. As a result, the Razorbacks limped back to Fayetteville licking their wounds from losing by 13 at the hands of a team that started the day 8-8.
Now who’s crying? The Hogs and their loyal fan base are.
Time to Grow Up
What may sometimes be unclear to 18- and 19-year-old athletes is that referees are not robots. They’re human beings. The textbook version of what a referee is supposed to do in a game is to call it without prejudice. The reality is that some, remarkably, can do this. Most cannot. That’s not a knock against referees. It’s a comment about human nature.
Consider Jaylin Williams, who played so well for last year’s Elite 8 Hogs that he’s now playing for this year’s Oklahoma City Thunder. No doubt, Arkansas could use his leadership this year.
Williams was a master at taking charges, which very few of today’s players are. At some point during the 2021-22 season, many Hog fans will agree, the referees started giving him the benefit of the doubt whenever he stood his ground and took one for the team.
One of his traits was that he always played with a smile. It endeared him not only to Hog fans, but the whole college basketball world, including the refs. No matter how hard he got knocked down, he picked himself up off the floor with a smile. Looking back on it now, it was part of his genius.
Over the past 30 years, Hog fans have been so conditioned to expect toughness that it’s almost demanded now. However, the expectation is that it should only be on display while the ball is in play, not after the whistle is blown. When it’s on display after the whistle, it nearly always leads to the benefit of the other team.
It’s hard not to think about Auburn dancing on the Hog logo at center court last year. Musselman showed video of it to the players and Auburn suffered the payback.
At this point, whether they’ve become the bad boys of SEC basketball or not, the Hogs simply need to win games, period. Nobody would care about the legacy of the Detroit Piston “Bad Boys” of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, who were led by one of Musselman’s mentors in Chuck Daly, if they hadn’t been racking up wins left and right. Unfortunately, that task just became more difficult. The Hogs have nobody to blame but themselves.
It’s time to replace the arrogant cockiness that comes from high school accolades with the genuine confidence that’s earned through competing against the men they’ll face from here until the end of the season. It’s time for each Hog to look deeply into the mirror and figure out what kind of legacy they want to leave, regardless of their length of stay on the Hill. They’re too talented not to leave a good one.
In simpler words, it’s time for this team to grow up.
Musselman on Arkansas Basketball Woes
Below is an excerpt from the post-game press conference:
On What Happened Defensively, Especially on Perimeter:
“I guess No. 0, [Tyrin] Lawrence, was more aggressive with hit hard dribble-drive left than maybe what our guys understood. And I thought [Liam] Robbins was absolutely incredible in the second half. 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. I’ve stated what we learned is you can’t have two bigs out there because we don’t guard the 3-point line… Our bigs are used to being interior inside, so that’s an issue.”
Did Vandy adjust or did your defense crumble?
“I guess Coach Stackhouse would have to answer if they changed some things. I thought we didn’t defend the three. I thought [Tyrin] Lawrence dominated us off the dribble. The scouting report was no dribble drives left, and he continually went left and blew by us. Taking away the three was what we discussed the last three days, and they made 10 threes. Rebounding the ball was extremely important. We did not rebound the ball defensively like we felt we should. Just a poor second half.”
Only 9 turnovers forced. How do you get that number back where you want it?
“I just think the level of competition has changed. Because of that our defensive deficiencies are showing up with each game, and our competitive … I mean, we’ve lost three straight games by double digits. I don’t recall a team we’ve coached doing that unless it was at the NBA level. Disappointed with the competitiveness. Disappointed with when a team make a run, combating that run. But again, we have a whole group of guys that’s learning, and we’re trying to learn as well.”
More on woes:
“Ricky [Council] played 40 minutes and had zero defensive rebounds, and he’s athletic and we need him to defensive rebound. We shot the ball much better than we have, especially from 3, and then we didn’t play with defensive intensity at all. To have a team go 18-26 in the second half from the field, you know there’s a lot of firsts that I’m experiencing as well.”
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