FAYETTEVILLE — As if his body language on the sideline wasn’t enough evidence, Eric Musselman made sure his opinion of Wednesday’s officiating was clear in his postgame comments to the media.
Although he never directly mentioned the referees, likely to avoid a fine from the SEC, the fourth-year Arkansas basketball coach referenced a few key stats multiple times following the No. 15 Razorbacks’ 84-69 loss to No. 4 Alabama inside Bud Walton Arena.
“I can’t recall a home game that I’ve ever coached that an opposing team had 36 free throws attempted,” a clearly frustrated Eric Musselman said. “I know they had talked about all our free throws last year. This year we’re at home and it happens.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen fouls with .5 seconds either, but it is what it is. Alabama deserved to win. … I mean, we take 10 three balls attempted to their 20, so they took twice as many 3s as us and we only got to the line 23 times, so I don’t know how that… I don’t understand that. If we were taking a lot of 3-point shots I would understand it.”
Musselman was correct with each of those numbers. Alabama went 25 of 36 from the free throw line and 9 of 20 from beyond the arc, while Arkansas was 15 of 23 from the stripe and just 2 of 10 from deep.
The game featured a combined 45 fouls and the first half was particularly brutal to watch, with the officials calling 28 total fouls that led to a combined 37 free throw attempts.
Three different Alabama players went to halftime with three fouls, while six different Razorbacks had two fouls in the first half.
Considering the way it was being called, Musselman emphasized drawing fouls during the break, but Arkansas attempted only five free throws (making four of them) after taking 18 in the first half. The Crimson Tide went 14 of 17 at the line in the second half after taking 19 in the first.
“When the outcome was like that at halftime, we talked about continuing,” Musselman said. “We went to the foul line five times in the second half in a really physical game. … But it’s been that way since league started, so we’ve got to try and play through it.”
However, as frustrated as Musselman was about that aspect of the game, it wasn’t what led to the loss. He pointed to several different areas that played a part in Arkansas dropping a second straight game by double-digits after its first two losses of the season were by a combined six points.
Brandon Miller Plays Like Lottery Pick
Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Razorbacks were a perfect 11-0 in AP top-25 SEC matchups in Fayetteville. However, Brandon Miller was able to do what the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Latrell Sprewell, Jamal Mashburn and others weren’t: lead a ranked SEC team to a road win over a ranked Arkansas squad.
The projected lottery pick scored all 14 of his points in the second half, going 3 of 4 from the floor — including 2 of 2 from beyond the arc — and 6 of 7 from the free throw line.
“I thought Brandon Miller was phenomenal in the second half,” Musselman said. “That’s what you need great players to do that are on your roster. He stepped up when the game was in the balance.”
Miller’s two 3-pointers were particularly big, as they were the second and third of three straight by the Crimson Tide in a 49-second span that essentially clinched the victory. Musselman described the shots as “demoralizing.”
Arkansas had just cut Alabama’s lead to 65-63 on a tough bucket by Jalen Graham and Bud Walton Arena was going crazy. Nate Oats called a timeout with 4:45 left and less than a minute later, the Crimson Tide had stretched their lead back to 11 with the help of two costly turnovers.
The second-half performance by Miller overshadowed what had been a tremendous defensive effort — primarily by Davonte Davis — against him in the first half. Not only did he fail to score before halftime, but he didn’t even take a shot. The Razorbacks strayed from the game plan in the second half, though, leading to his scoring outburst.
“The first half was incredible,” Musselman said. “Absolutely as good as you could play a guy. And then in the second half, not so good. We went under back-to-back dribble handoffs. We didn’t go under one time in the first half.”
It was clear that Alabama wanted to get Miller involved after halftime because it went to him on the first possession of the second half. He drove to the basket and missed, but got his own rebound and put it back in.
That shot seemed to settle him in offensively and then he reminded everyone why he’s projected to early in the lottery in this year’s NBA Draft.
“He didn’t force anything,” Makhel Mitchell said. “We played terrific defense on him in the first half. That one bucket can get you going and he hit a few more. He’s just a good player overall.”
Good and Bad from Jalen Graham
It’s been a bit of an up-and-down season for Jalen Graham, as the Arizona State transfer has shown flashes of his potential, but it’s usually come late in blowouts. When given meaningful minutes, he’s struggled or not taken advantage of the opportunity.
That changed Wednesday. Graham almost single-handedly kept the Razorbacks in the game and scored 16 points, which was tied with Davonte Davis for the team lead.
He actually gave Arkansas the lead on a tough layup late in the first half and posted an impressive plus-7 in eight first-half minutes. Despite the solid play, Graham didn’t check in until the 10:45 mark of the second half.
There were times Graham took his performance to the defensive end of the floor, even drawing a charge in the first half, but Musselman also pointed out that it was his mistake that led to Noah Clowney’s corner 3 at the start of the 49-second stretch in which the Crimson Tide made three.
“Offensively, I thought Jalen was awesome,” Musselman said. “I mean, I thought that he took good shots, he’s a good passer, you saw his ball handling. We just have to continue to work defensively because that Clowney 3, we were switching pick-and-rolls, so there was no reason really to help. But that’s one play and certainly Jalen was a huge bright spot for us offensively.”
New Starting Lineup for Arkansas Basketball
Even though the Razorbacks have reached the halfway point of the regular season, Eric Musselman continues to tinker with his lineup and made another change for the Alabama game.
He inserted Makhel Mitchell into the starting group and had Ricky Council IV come off the bench — both of which were firsts. It was the fifth different starting combination for Arkansas this year.
The move was made to counter the size of Alabama, which started players that stood 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10 and 7-foot.
“It was a matchup thing, (because of) height difference and stuff,” Mitchell said. “They have a lot of bigs. … Coach wanted to try something new. And I think I did decent tonight, and hopefully it will lead to some more minutes.”
Mitchell hadn’t come off the bench in four games this season and was averaging only 6.9 minutes, but played 22 minutes against Alabama. He finished with five points, much of which came from a three-point play early in the game on which he posterized an Alabama defender.
Council was the first player off the bench, checking in at the 16:24 mark of the first half, and he started the second half in place of Jordan Walsh.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Wednesday was the first top-15 matchup at Bud Walton Arena since the 1995 Super Bowl Sunday showdown between No. 9 Arkansas and No. 5 Kentucky, which the Hogs won 94-92 on a shot by Scotty Thurman with about 10 seconds left.
- This was Arkansas’ third straight AP top-25 matchup, as it also beat No. 20 Missouri and lost to No. 22 Auburn. It’s just the fifth time in school history that the Razorbacks have played three such games in a row, with the last two coming in the final three games of the 1994 and 1995 NCAA Tournaments. They also did it in the 1980-81 and 1990-91 regular seasons, but both of those were part of early-season tournaments.
- With the loss, Eric Musselman dropped to 10-10 against AP-ranked opponents at Arkansas, including a 5-6 mark against top-10 foes. The Razorbacks’ last three head coaches — Mike Anderson, John Pelphrey and Stan Heath — had a combined 8-28 record against top-10 teams in the 17 seasons prior to Musselman’s arrival.
- Davonte Davis notched his second double-double of the season, finishing with 16 points on 6 of 17 shooting and 10 rebounds. Despite coming into the game shooting a dismal 17.9% from the beyond the arc, he also went 2 of 3 from deep.
- After going just 2 of 10 from beyond the arc as a team against Alabama, the Razorbacks are now shooting just 19.4% through four SEC games. On the season, Arkansas is shooting 28.4% from 3-point range, which ranks 351st out of 363 Division I teams and is the worst among high-major teams.
- ESPN color commentator Jay Bilas called his first game inside Bud Walton Arena on Wednesday. He was scheduled to work the game alongside Karl Ravech, but flight issues prevented Ravech from making it, so Arkansas native Jimmy Dykes filled in.
Arkansas vs Alabama Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Alabama Box Score
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