Given how animated he is on the sideline, it’s usually never a mystery how Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman feels about the officiating on any given night.
He never publicly voices his opinions, though, because doing so would result in a fine and reprimand. Such was the case following the No. 20 Razorbacks’ 84-79 loss to Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals Thursday evening.
The referees were heavily criticized by Arkansas basketball fans for numerous calls throughout the game. Reading between the lines of Musselman’s response to a question about it during his postgame radio show indicates he felt the same.
“I don’t have any comment whatsoever on the officials tonight, you could read what you wanted to into it,” Musselman said. “But we gave up five points on technical fouls, as well.”
In an answer to another question, Musselman also referenced “some things that just didn’t make much sense.”
Those technical fouls drew the ire of many fans and were even questioned by ESPN’s broadcast crew, but what proved to be arguably the game-defining call happened with about seven minutes left.
Memphis had pushed its lead to nine when Arkansas used a turnover to score four quick points to get back in it. A second turnover gave the Razorbacks a chance to further cut into the deficit and it looked like they took advantage of it when Khalif Battle blew by his defender and finished a tough layup through contact for a potential old-fashioned 3-point play that could have pulled them within 64-62.
Instead, as he celebrated the apparent bucket while sitting on the baseline, Battle was whistled for a charge. It took the points off the board and gave the ball back to the Tigers, who promptly scored to go up 66-59 — essentially a five-point swing.
That was the last time the Razorbacks had the ball with a chance to pull within one possession until the game’s final minute, when there simply wasn’t enough time left to stage a comeback.
Technical Fouls on Arkansas
It was not a banner night for the crew of Gary Maxwell, Mike Roberts and Marquis Pettigrew.
The first of Arkansas’ three technicals was on Davonte Davis, who pointed toward the Memphis bench after knocking down a 3 that put the Razorbacks up 21-19 with 8:09 left in the first half. It was a classic taunting call, but color analyst Andraya Carter wasn’t a fan of the ref’s quick whistle.
She and play-by-play man Kevin Fitzgerald also didn’t agree with Trevon Brazile getting a technical when he bumped into a Memphis player while running down the court after a pair of free throws by Khalif Battle just three minutes later.
It was also unclear exactly why freshman Layden Blocker got his in the second half, but the Tigers went 5 of 6 on the free throws they were awarded because of the three technicals.
“We gave up five points off technicals,” Musselman said in his postgame press conference. “I mean, it’s a five-point game. We gave that up on technicals.”
Then there was the end of the game, when four plays in the span of 3.4 seconds of game time had to be reviewed — two of which were (correctly) overturned in favor of Memphis.
Of course, the loss can’t be entirely pinned on the officiating. Arkansas basketball also made its fair share of mistakes that led to its second loss of the season.
Turnovers Aid ‘Disastrous’ End to Half
It’s easy for fans to fixate on the referees, but Arkansas certainly didn’t do itself any favors by turning the ball over early and often. In fact, mention of the Razorbacks’ 18 turnovers – nine in each half – was the first thing out of Eric Musselman’s mouth in his postgame press conference.
“Gotta do a much better job taking care of the basketball,” Musselman said. “The 18 turnovers, you’re not going to win many basketball games turning the ball over that much.”
Arguably the two most costly turnovers of the game happened in the final minute of the first half.
Arkansas was leading 37-36 and had a chance to add to its lead in the closing seconds when Trevon Brazile grabbed the rebound on a missed 3-pointer by Memphis.
Instead, Khalif Battle lost the ball on a drive to the basket and the Tigers turned it into a corner 3 for the game’s 14th – and final – lead change. It got worse when El Ellis had the ball poked away from him on the next possession. Memphis came up with the loose ball and nailed a 3 at the buzzer.
That sequence was singled out by Musselman as what “cost us the game.” However, those were just six of 27 points the Tigers scored off Arkansas’ turnovers.
“Memphis is really aggressive defensively,” Musselman said. “They gamble in passing lanes. They switch. I thought they did a great job and we didn’t handle it.”
Coming into the game, the Razorbacks were averaging only 11 turnovers, so it was an uncharacteristic performance. As Musselman has mentioned several times already this season, a lack of physicality might have contributed to the high number, as well.
“A few of them, we’ve just got to be a little tougher,” Davis said. “Guys were slapping and reaching on the opposite team, and if we’re not getting calls, we’ve got to be tougher. Some of the calls weren’t going our way, therefore we’ve got to look at it as that and say we’ve got to be tougher on our end.”
Failing to Keep Up with the Joneses
For the second night in a row, Arkansas basketball allowed a player named Jones to light up the scoreboard.
The day after Spencer Jones finished one point shy of matching his career high with 27 points on 10 of 20 shooting (including 5 of 10 from deep) for Stanford, David Jones poured in a career-high 36 points for Memphis.
“(He) creates mismatch problems because he can play so many different positions,” Musselman said. “I’m sure it was a career night for him. We’ve been pretty good at guarding certain people. Tonight, we were really poor at guarding him.”
This Jones was even more efficient, going 10 of 14 from the floor. All four of his misses were from beyond the arc, where he went 4 of 8. He also drew seven fouls and went 12 of 14 from the charity stripe. As if that wasn’t enough, Jones added five steals, matching his career high.
“He made a name for himself tonight, quite frankly,” Musselman said. “He really did. Scouts here and stuff, they are going to remember that performance because he was that good and that dominant on unbelievable efficiency.
“I didn’t think he took one bad shot and he scored 36 points. That’s hard to do, score 36 and have unbelievable, impeccable shot selection. He had better shot selection than almost every guy on my team. He kicked our butt.”
The 36 points by Jones are the second-most ever allowed by a Musselman-coached college team, trailing only the 37 by Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves on March 4 last season.
Despite the fact that opposing guards have put up 27 and 36 points against the Razorbacks on back-to-back days, Davis is not too concerned about it and believes they’ll only get better.
“We feel that we’re pretty good at defense,” Davis said. “We work on it all the time during practice, different schemes and different coverages. We for sure scout our teams we play against pretty well, so there’s no excuse. He just had a good game tonight.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball at Battle 4 Atlantis
The Razorbacks will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis third-place game at noon CT Friday. Their opponent is the only other top-25 team at the event, No. 14 North Carolina.
It will be the 11th all-time meeting between the two schools and first in exactly six years. In that matchup, the Tar Heels won 87-68 at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore., to improve to 7-3 in the series. The three meetings before that were each in the second round of the NCAA Tournament – all of which Arkansas lost.
North Carolina (4-1) is coming off a tough 83-81 overtime loss to Villanova after opening the Battle 4 Atlantis by cruising to a win over Northern Illinois.
The game will be televised on ESPN2 and should end in time for fans to flip over to CBS for the football team’s 3 p.m. CT kickoff against Missouri.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- The game was televised by ESPN, but switched to ESPNU during the second half because it ran long due to the late start caused by North Carolina-Villanova going to overtime. It then switched to ESPN2 in the closing minutes.
- With 15 points against Memphis, senior Davonte Davis became the 46th member of Arkansas’ 1,000-point club. He now has 1,001. “Feels good, but we lost,” Davis said. “Next game for me. Thanks to God, because he made me able to accomplish that. But got to win games.”
- The loss means Eric Musselman is still sitting on 99 wins as the Arkansas basketball coach. He is now 99-44, which is good for a .692 winning percentage
- After an impressive breakout performance against Stanford, freshman Layden Blocker made his first career start Thursday against Memphis. He finished with 9 points on 3 of 5 shooting, 3 rebounds (all offensive) and 1 assist in 27 minutes.
- Trevon Brazile came to the Bahamas with only two double-doubles in his career and he’s already doubled that total. He had 13 points and 10 rebounds against Memphis after notching 14 points and 17 rebounds against Stanford.
Arkansas vs Memphis Highlights
Arkansas vs Memphis Box Score (Battle 4 Atlantis)
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