All it took was a trip to Baton Rouge for the Arkansas basketball team to revert back to what it was for much of the first half of SEC play.
The Razorbacks showed some fight in a loss to No. 6 Kentucky and then crushed Missouri earlier this week, but followed it up with an uninspired 95-74 loss at LSU that honestly wasn’t even that close.
Seven points in the final 43 seconds assured Arkansas would avoid its worst loss to the Tigers in series history — a 29-point loss in the 2003 SEC Tournament. Instead, it’s “only” tied for the second-worst, as the Razorbacks also lost to LSU by 21 in 2000 and 2018.
More importantly, it drops Arkansas back down to .500 overall at 11-11 and makes it 2-7 at the halfway point of SEC play. Four of those conference losses have been by 20-plus points, which is the most in the league and matches the total number of such losses by the Razorbacks during head coach Eric Musselman’s first four seasons.
“I was hoping we’d be able to capitalize off our last two games,” Musselman said. “Obviously, we did not. So, yeah, disappointed that we weren’t able to capitalize from what we have done the last 80 minutes of play. Not a good game for us today.”
As has been the case for much of the conference slate, this one was over almost from the jump. The Razorbacks scored the first points of the game and held LSU scoreless for the first two minutes, but then gave up a 10-0 run and the Tigers never looked back.
Two free throws by Jordan Wright put LSU up by 10 with 13:03 left in the first half and Arkansas never got back within single digits. The Tigers led by as many as 28 with less than a minute remaining and Musselman’s expression early in the second half about sums up how it went for the Razorbacks:
“The only thing I know is to go back and coach,” Musselman said. “This has been unlike things that I’ve experienced. All I know is we get in the gym on Monday, and we try to get better. That’s the job of any coach of any sport. We got a lot of spots we’ve got to get better at. A lot. On both sides of the ball.”
Will Baker Leads LSU’s Sizzling Start
LSU delivered an early knockout blow by lighting it up on the offensive end. After missing a shot and committing two turnovers on their first three possessions, the Tigers made eight straight shots — four of which were beyond the arc.
Even 13 minutes into the game, LSU was shooting 78.6% (11 of 14) from the floor and 85.7% (6 of 7) from deep. It eventually cooled off, but still ended the game shooting 54.7% — including 12 of 23 (52.2%) from 3-point range — and that’s despite a five-minute stretch in which it missed six straight shots in the second half.
“Well, it’s defending the 3, it’s defending the dribble-drive,” Musselman said with a laugh of disbelief. “I mean, we’re not doing either. If we were, we’d probably have a better record. It’s our job to get players to improve. It’s our job to get players to follow the game plan. We have not been good defending the 3 all year. Can never compare teams of the past, but we’re doing the same drills. Just execution come game time is not there.”
It was the Tigers’ third-leading scorer who led the charge, but he did it in a surprising way. Will Baker entered the game shooting just 29.0% from beyond the arc with only nine made 3s in 20 games, helping him average 11.1 points. He was even worse in the previous seven SEC games, going just 2 of 10.
Against the Razorbacks, though, the 7-foot transfer from Nevada transformed into Dirk Nowitzki. He made a trio of 3s and had his season average within only nine minutes.
Baker finished with 25 points on 9 of 11 shooting, including 4 of 5 from deep, in 32 minutes. The four 3s are tied for the second-most he’s ever made, behind only a 25-point effort in which he made six against Utah State while playing for the Wolf Pack.
“He did everything well,” Musselman said. “He made 3s, he posted up, he beat us off the dribble. I’m sure it’s a career night for him. I don’t have his (cumulative) stats for his career in front of me, but I would assume that’s as good a game as he’s played in his entire career.”
LSU also got 20 points from Jalen Cook, who went 3 of 5 from deep and made all seven of his free throws. He did his damage in just 21 minutes off the bench after starting the previous nine games.
The Mitchell, Musselman Spat
Late in the first half, ESPN2’s cameras caught Eric Musselman and Makhi Mitchell yelling at each other as the broadcast went to commercial break. A replay was shown when they got back.
The exchange happened shortly after Mitchell came up with a steal and promptly threw it back to LSU. At first glance, it looked like a bad pass by the big man. Upon a closer look, though, he was clearly throwing it to his point guard, Keyon Menifield Jr., and tried hitting him in stride so he could start the break. The only problem was that Menifield wasn’t looking for the ball or running.
However, when he was asked about the incident during the postgame press conference, Musselman indicated the argument was centered on defense instead of the turnover.
“I think Makhi is trying to do the right thing,” Musselman said. “Baker was hitting 3s. It’s a five-man defense. If Makhi helps on the dribble-drive, we need somebody else to stunt for him. We’ve got to get better at that.”
Regardless of the reason, Mitchell was pulled with the Razorbacks on a 6-0 run after pulling within 12 points. That prompted an LSU timeout with 2:59 left in the half.
Without the Hogs’ big man on the floor, the Tigers went on a quick 9-0 run. Mitchell came back in with 1:31 left in the half and Arkansas scored the final six points going into the break.
Although he was well short of a third straight double-double, Mitchell finished with 10 points on 3 of 4 shooting and made all four of his free throws. He grabbed just three rebounds, but had a team-high four assists.
He posted a minus-9 in his 29 minutes, meaning Arkansas was outscored by 12 in the 11 minutes he was on the bench.
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks will get extra time to prepare for their next game, as they don’t play Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s their lone “open date” of conference play.
Georgia will visit Bud Walton Arena next Saturday for a rematch of Arkansas’ 76-66 loss in Athens, Ga., back on Jan. 10. In that game, the Bulldogs led from start to finish despite a decent effort by the Razorbacks.
Like Arkansas had to do this past week, Georgia — which lost to South Carolina 72-62 on Saturday — will have a late game on the road Wednesday (at Mississippi State) before heading to Arkansas. However, Saturday’s tip will be later in the day than the Arkansas-LSU tip, as it’s set for 5 p.m. CT. The SEC Network will televise the game.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Tramon Mark led the Razorbacks in scoring (20) and rebounding (6), plus added two steals and one block in 34 minutes.
- Jalen Graham turned in arguably his best game of the season with 18 points on 8 of 14 shooting, and even made 2 of 3 free throws while grabbing four rebounds with two steals, one assist and one block. “We need to go to him more,” Musselman said in his postgame radio interview. “He needs to get the ball on the block more because right now he’s our most efficient scorer.”
- For just the third time this season, Denijay Harris got double-digit minutes. He failed to score in his 11 minutes, but did grab a rebound, commit four fouls and play persistent defense. Most surprisingly, he was plus-1.
- During the under-8 media timeout in the second half, Eric Musselman was whistled for a technical foul for arguing with the officials. It was his first technical since getting ejected against Oklahoma on Dec. 9, but fifth of the season and 20th of his career with Arkansas basketball, according to HogStats.
- Even with a seven-point loss to Kentucky mixed in, Arkansas basketball’s seven SEC losses have an average margin of defeat of 18.6 points. Six of them have been by double digits.
- At the halfway point of SEC play, opponents are shooting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc against the Razorbacks. That is the worst mark in the league.
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