TULSA, Okla. — Not much is going well for Arkansas basketball right now.
Several of the issues that have plagued the Razorbacks all year were on display at the BOK Center on Saturday as they lost 79-70 to No. 19 Oklahoma in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
The Sooners led by as many as 19 and maintained a double-digit lead for nearly the final 17 minutes of the game, with only a meaningless 8-0 run getting it back to nine.
Now sitting at 6-4, Arkansas is off to its worst start since going 5-5 over its first 10 games on the way to a 16-16 record in 2015-16.
“The team right now is not playing with the same personality as our past teams the last four years, and we’ve got to get a lot better,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “I think we play three games in the next 20 days. Rotations, roles, all those things… There’s going to be some changes.”
Oklahoma used a 14-2 run to end the first half to break a tie and build a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, with its game plan of attacking the basket giving Arkansas all sorts of problems.
In fact, the Sooners had more paint points (26) than the Razorbacks’ total points (25) in the first half. They finished with 36 and went 16 of 25 on layups.
“They kept attacking because we can’t keep the ball in front of us, so I would keep attacking, too,” Musselman said. “If the guards can’t keep the ball in front, there’s only so many times your back line is going to be able to block a shot.”
The performance left Musselman disgusted. As he has several times this year, he commented on how this year’s team is nothing like the last three, all of which made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“Our program has had great toughness, great will to win, great competitiveness,” Musselman said. “We need to be better in all those areas. To me, that’s part of a team’s personality.”
Part of that “personality” – or identity – has been an excellent defense. That simply has not happened this year.
After Oklahoma shot 51.0% (25 of 49) and scored 79 points on Saturday, opponents are now averaging 76.4 points against the Razorbacks. That is near the bottom of the SEC and significantly worse than the 63.5 points per game they were allowing through the first 10 games last season – albeit they’ve played better competition this year.
“We have guys that are really struggling defensively, and some of the guys quite frankly have struggled in the past, too,” Musselman said. “Scheme-wise, technique-wise, we’re doing what we’ve done for nine years in college. This group has not grasped, or has not executed — whatever word you want to use — like the last however many years I’ve been coaching college.”
There are plenty of problems on that side of the ball, but Jeremiah Davenport singled out one area that could lead to improvement.
“I’d say being in gaps more, being connected on the defensive end,” Davenport said. “Obviously, it’s going to lead to offense, but I’d say just being more connected and being more together. Being in the gaps and helping each other out.”
Of course, the issues aren’t limited to defense, either. Musselman also pointed to the Razorbacks’ struggles down low. They had only 10 paint points in the first half and finished the game just 6 of 16 on layups – and that was only the start of their problems.
“Finishing at the rim is a huge issue, and not only not finishing at the rim, but falling down and now transition defense (has been affected),” Musselman said. “It’s been going on all year.”
The good news is that Arkansas has a full week before playing another game. In theory, that should give Musselman time to figure out a solution to these issues. However, that may not even be enough for what the Razorbacks have to do to be the kind of team they’ve been since he took over the program.
“I’d like to have 100 weeks right now,” Musselman said. “Yeah, I’m glad we don’t play tomorrow because we have a lot of things that we, like we’re not going to keep doing the same thing over and over. We’re not going to keep putting the same lineup out there. We’ve got to continue to tinker and try to figure this thing out to the best of our ability.”
Musselman Ejected (Again)
Just as he did two years ago, Eric Musselman watched the end of the Arkansas vs Oklahoma game from the locker room.
His frustration with the officials was evident throughout the game, but boiled over at the first media timeout of the second half. He blew up and received a double technical, resulting in an ejection.
Asked about the incident after the game, Musselman gave the short and typical response you’d expect.
“I have no comments about the refs at all,” Musselman said.
Interestingly, those were two of six total technicals called in the game. Chandler Lawson was part of a double technical with Oklahoma’s Jalon Moore, while the other two were on Otega Oweh and Rivaldo Soares for the Sooners.
“It was an emotional game,” Oklahoma basketball coach Porter Moser said. “I think the atmosphere is awesome here in Tulsa. I think both schools had tremendous enthusiasm. … You can play with emotion, but you can’t play emotionally.”
Trevon Brazile Update
One of the big question marks heading into Saturday’s game revolved around the status of star big man Trevon Brazile.
He went down with an ankle injury late in the win over Furman on Monday and Musselman eventually described it as a “severe” sprain in a not-so-optimistic update on Wednesday.
However, Brazile traveled with the team and apparently felt good enough in pregame warmups that not only was he available, but he remained in the starting lineup. Musselman said he didn’t know that for sure until right before tipoff, when he got the okay from the doctors.
Brazile ended up playing only 15 minutes and failed to score, going 0 of 2 from the floor. He was on the bench for the final 15:47.
“He did everything he could,” Musselman said. “I mean, he was rehabbing at all hours of the day. He and Matt the trainer did a great job. Obviously he wasn’t his normal self, but he sacrificed for the team and tried to give us some minutes.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
With final exams taking place next week, Arkansas basketball will get a full week off before returning to the court. It’ll be another game away from Fayetteville, as the Razorbacks travel to North Little Rock for their annual game at Simmons Bank Arena.
This year’s opponent is Lipscomb, which is 6-5 overall and will play Tennessee State on Sunday. Coming into the day, the Bisons are No. 139 in the NET rankings. Even though it’s not at Bud Walton Arena, it’s considered a home game for Arkansas, so it’ll be a Quadrant 3 matchup for the Razorbacks.
Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT and, unlike previous seasons, it will actually be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- With Oklahoma joining the SEC next year, this was the final year of the Crimson and Cardinal Classic in Tulsa. The Sooners won two of the three matchups, but Arkansas still leads the all-time series 17-14.
- There weren’t many bright spots, but Jeremiah Davenport scored a season-high 12 points on 3 of 6 shooting, which included 2 of 5 from beyond the arc. Despite his reputation as a 3-point shooter, the Cincinnati transfer came into the game just 6 of 24 (25%).
- Jalen Graham blocked two shots within his first six minutes on the floor after coming into the day with only one in 39 minutes.
- The Razorbacks went 26 of 31 from the charity stripe. At 83.9%, that is a season high, topping the 80% they shot against UNC Greensboro.
For our latest column on Arkansas basketball, go here:
Arkansas vs Oklahoma Highlights
Arkansas vs Oklahoma Box Score
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