Nick Smith Jr.’s “Best Friend” a Tad Too Much for Hogs in Arkansas vs Alabama

Nick Smith Jr, Brandon Miller, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Alabama
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Alabama Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Alabama

Pregame Tidbits

Starting Lineups – Arkansas vs Alabama

Alabama BasketballArkansas Basketball
Mark SearsAnthony Black
Jaden BradleyNick Smith Jr
Brandon MillerDevo Davis
Noah ClowneyJordan Walsh
Charles BediakoMakhi Mitchell

1H 11:22 | Arkansas 11 – 10 Alabama

Arkansas came out strong defensively, taking a 7-2 lead thanks in large part to 3 blocks and 2 steals as a team. Anthony Black picked up 2 fouls in the first 5 minutes of action.

Nick Smith leads the way for the Hogs with 4 points on 2-of-4 from the field.

Alabama is shooting 28.6% FG and have missed all four of their 3-point attempts while the Hogs are shooting 31% and only 0-of-1 from long range.

END 1H | Arkansas 37 – 28 Alabama

Alabama gained their composure and knocked down a few tough shots, including multiple second-chance opportunities. Tide took the lead at 17-15 with under 10:00 to play.

Smith continued his recent offensive aggression, knocking down midrange shots and drawing fouls in the paint. Devo Davis also hit a deep three for his first long-range make in 3 games.

Arkansas has been relentless in their paint attack with multiple players earned trips to the free throw line – including Makhel Mitchell finishing off an And-1 opportunity to put the Hogs up 29-22 with 4:00 to play.

Smith finished off back-to-back fast breaks with a layup and an emphatic lob to Ricky Council IV to put Arkansas up 33-22!

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs Alabama

2H 12:22 | Arkansas 46 – 51 Alabama

Alabama came out hot, including a monster alley oop finish from Brandon Miller. Nick Smith Jr responded back basket-for-basket with Miller on the other end to stifle the Tide run, though.

Alabama’s defense stepped up with multiple stops and the Tide took advantage on the other end with a mini-run to take the lead at 47-46 with 14:01 to play.

Brandon Miller is up to 17 points as Alabama leads by 5 with just over 12:00 to play. Nick Smith Jr leads the way for Arkansas with 15 points.

2H 2:54 | Arkansas 63 – 75 Alabama

Arkansas went on a prolonged scoring drought, allowing Alabama to extend their lead to 10 before Devo Davis halted the run with a tough layup.

Arkansas struggled early in the half to contain the Tide dribble-drive, primarily from Jahvon Quinerly and Mark Sears.

Anthony Black fouled out on a charge call with 4:32 to play.

Brandon Miller hit a big three with under 3:00 to play to extend Alabama’s lead to 12.

END GAME | Arkansas 83 – 86 Alabama

Devo Davis hit a big three followed by a Nick Smith Jr fast break slam to cut the lead to 5.

Alabama answered with a dagger 3-pointer from the corner to extend their lead back to 78-70.

Davis quickly answered with an And-1 opportunity on the other end – Davis stayed down on the ground rattled for a moment after appearing to take a hard hip-check to the midsection. He made the free-throw to cut the lead to 78-73 with just over one minute to play.

Jordan Walsh fouled out with 1:04 to play, Alabama leading 79-73.

A late, old-fashioned 3-point parlay from Ricky Council IV cut the lead to 83-80 with 18.2 to play.

A pair of Tide free throws followed by a massive 3-pointer from Nick Smith Jr cut the Alabama lead to 85-83 with 7.8 to play.

Alabama went 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, giving Arkansas a chance to tie, but Ricky Council IV missed a last-second heave at the buzzer.

Brandon Miller, whom Nick Smith below referred to as his “best friend,” finished with 24 points to tie with Smith for the game high.

Below is the game preview written before tipoff.

Arkansas vs Alabama Preview

In the last Arkansas vs Alabama matchup, the Crimson Tide pulled away late and beat the Razorbacks by 15 in Bud Walton Arena back in mid-January. It is their largest defeat of the season and came in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

This time around, however, Arkansas basketball has an ace up its sleeve: Nick Smith Jr. The freshman guard was still out with “right knee management” in the first game between the teams, but has recently returned to the court.

In his first two games back from injury, Smith logged only 5 points in roughly 20 total minutes as the Hogs lost back-to-back games. He found a bit more of his usual rhythm in the win over Florida before bursting onto the national scene with a 26-point performance against Georgia on Tuesday night.

“Nick obviously changes who we are with his perimeter shooting — not just offensively,” Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said. “Obviously, the 9-of-14 and the 5-of-8 from three and his 26 points (were important), but I thought he did a really good job defensively as well… You add Nick, and we’re a much better and way more well-rounded offensive team.”

The future NBA lottery pick finally got a chance to show off his full arsenal on both ends of the court, but he still won’t be the most-talked-about freshman entering the matchup against Alabama, set to tip off at 1 p.m. CT Saturday on ESPN2. And that focus has nothing to do with on-court production.

What to Expect from Alabama

Alabama star forward Brandon Miller was recently linked to a murder case in which former teammate Darius Miles is facing a capital murder charge. Reports claim that Miller delivered the murder weapon to Miles and Michael Lynn Davis – who is also facing a capital murder charge – on Jan. 15, the night that it was used. A recent statement from Miller’s attorney disputes his knowing participation in the tragic event:

Without taking any severity away from the situation or reprimands for those involved, Arkansas still faces Alabama on the basketball court Saturday, and Miller will likely be available — barring any additional information on the case — because he took the court for the Tide on Wednesday night.

The extra distraction didn’t seem to bother Miller in Alabama’s overtime victory at South Carolina, despite the recent revelations. The 6-foot-9 freshman exploded for 41 points on 56% shooting from the field and 46% from long range, including hitting the game-winning shot in overtime.

Perhaps the allegations provided a rallying cry for Miller – he certainly looked determined to overcome anything standing in his path on Wednesday. The rest of the team, however, didn’t fare as well. Outside of Miller’s monster performance, the Tide shot a combined 1 of 14 from long range and only 35% from the field all together.

Mark Sears – a 6-foot-1 junior who scored 26 points against Arkansas earlier this season – scored only 8 points on 3 of 7 shooting. Freshman forward Noah Clowney – who in the first bout vs Arkansas went for 15 points on 83% FG – was also limited to 8 points on poor efficiency.

This rough shooting performance from most of the Alabama basketball team could arguably be attributed to the off-court distraction, but should do little to change Arkansas’ focus. All season, the Tide have had a notably reduced efficiency in road games compared to home games – especially against SEC competition.

They’re now averaging 77.3 points on 44% FG and 34% 3P in SEC road games compared to 91.4 points on 50% FG and 40% 3P in SEC home games. Unfortunately for the Hogs, this rematch is set to take place in Tuscaloosa.

“I mean, they have so many weapons,” Musselman said. “Miller’s one of the best catch-and-shoot 3-point guys in the league. He’s got great size. Sears gave us a lot of problems with his dribble penetration, and obviously you don’t want to give up threes.

“(Jahvon) Quinerly does a great job of creating pace of play for them. Clowney hit a huge 3 in the right corner against us. He’s a guy that does a good job rim-rolling, and (Charles) Bediako inside is a great shot blocker and a rim protector.”

Expect Devo Davis to draw the daunting task of slowing down Miller despite the nearly 5-inch height difference between the two players. Davis did an excellent job against Miller in the first half of January’s game – holding the star forward to zero shot attempts in 18 minutes of action. He didn’t fare nearly as well in the second half, however, giving up 14 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 from the charity stripe.

Though Nick Smith Jr likely wouldn’t be matched up against Miller for most of the game, the two know each other well and were the only ESPN top-10 recruits from their class to join the SEC. The battle between these two high-level scorers projects to be must-see-TV.

“It’s going to be rocking,” Smith said of the matchup with Alabama. “Brandon Miller is my best friend. We’re going to go at it. I know a lot of guys on that team and we’re going to try to get a win.”

What to Expect from the Razorbacks

After suffering back-to-back losses for the first time in nearly a month, Arkansas got back on track in a big way over its last two home games. The Razorbacks followed up a 19-point win over Florida by crushing Georgia 97-65 for their largest SEC win of the season on Tuesday.

The 26 points scored by Nick Smith Jr will be viewed as the most notable factor in Arkansas’ big win, but it’s the way he changes the complexion of the entire team that had a bigger impact on the Razorbacks’ dominant performance.

Smith is not only an excellent isolation scorer, but he also understands perhaps better than anyone on the roster how to move without the ball and inject motion into the offense as a whole. The threat of his perimeter shooting also opens up driving lanes, creates better passing lanes and provides more room for the post players to work themselves into scoring position – all by just being on the court.

As a team, Arkansas turned the ball over only five times in the entire game – easily their best mark of the season. They also had an absurd 266 passes, according to Musselman.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a team go over 250,” Musselman said postgame.

Naturally, Anthony Black’s ability to efficiently create plays for others certainly played a role in the incredible pass-to-turnover ratio – he finished the game with 8 assists and 0 turnovers – but Smith’s presence also helped to create better passing lanes that, in turn, helped limit turnovers.

“The one area we’ve wanted to improve on is our turnovers and our self-inflicted turnovers,” Musselman said. “Tonight was a huge step in the right direction because personnel changes things. Nick being out there changes our spacing offensively, which has an effect on turnovers.”

Against Georgia, Ricky Council IV also took full advantage of the additional offensive spacing, albeit against a weaker defensive opponent. He scored 22 points on an efficient 9-of-16 (56%) from the field to go along with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block. Council has had arguably the biggest adjustment over the last two games after being moved to a sixth-man role off the bench, though this huge performance against the Bulldogs could be exactly what he needs to adjust to his new role.

Devo Davis has seen the biggest drop-off in offensive production over the last four games, averaging only 6.3 points on 33% shooting. He had averaged 16.4 points on 48% shooting in the previous nine games. However, he hasn’t given an inch on the defensive side of the ball while adjusting to his new role.

“I think (Devo) is doing what he’s done all year for us,” Musselman said. “He’s providing what we need. We needed him to really be offensively aggressive. His shot selection in the last two games has been phenomenal. He’s having fun out there.”

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Alabama

The first time these teams met, it wasn’t simply the absence of Smith that caused the Hogs to lose. Arkansas committed 23 fouls and gave Alabama 36 free throw attempts – tied for its second-most free throws allowed all season.

Say what you will about officiating inconsistencies, but the Hogs gave up 35-plus free throws in three straight games, including their loss to Alabama. It was as much of a defensive issue as anything else for the Hogs at the time – especially defending without fouling.

In their last six games, though, the Razorbacks have held their opponents to 66.3 points while allowing only 19.7 free throws per game. In the eight games before that, the Hogs allowed 70.8 points and 26.4 free throw attempts per game.

Opponents’ shooting percentage, 3-point percentage and turnovers have all stayed relatively the same over their last 15 or so games, so defending without fouling is clearly one of the reasons for the Hogs’ recent success — winning seven of their last nine SEC games. This will again be vital heading into Arkansas vs Alabama, Part II.

The Crimson Tide are an elite offensive team, averaging 91.4 points per game on 50% FG and 40% 3P shooting in home SEC games. If the Hogs want any chance of walking out of Tuscaloosa with a victory, they cannot afford to give Alabama easy points at the charity stripe in addition to how well they shoot the ball from everywhere else.

Arkansas vs Alabama Prediction

Arkansas is 3-2 in its last five games in Tuscaloosa, but it has lost the last two. However, the Razorbacks have been playing their best basketball of the season over their last two games – even considering the relatively weaker competition. The Hogs have lost multiple games this year against teams that looked weaker on paper.

Having two stress-free wins on their homecourt could be exactly what the doctor ordered for this Arkansas basketball team scrambling to get Nick Smith Jr re-acclimated to the rotation before the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. He’s clearly changed the whole dynamic of the team, both with his scoring and ability to create opportunities for others by simply being on the court.

The Razorbacks will be hungry for revenge against Alabama and Musselman knows a thing or two about revenge games – he’s currently 9-1 at Arkansas when facing a team that beat him earlier in the season, including already avenging a loss to LSU this year.

Five of those wins came after losing the first matchup by double-digits, as it did to the Crimson Tide in January. However, of those five wins, only one involved losing in Bud Walton Arena before winning the rematch on the road – when Arkansas lost to Missouri by 13 in 2021 before beating the Tigers in Columbia in overtime.

The Hogs will be more than ready to add to that streak come Saturday. Smith will lead the charge while Ricky Council IV and Anthoy Black continue their stellar play and the Hogs earn perhaps their biggest win of the season against a distracted Tide team.

Arkansas, 81-77

How to Watch Arkansas vs Alabama

Date: Saturday, Feb. 25

Location: Coleman Coliseum (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 1 p.m. CT (ESPN2)

ESPN BPI: Alabama has an 84.6% chance to win


Check out highlights of the first Arkansas vs Alabama matchup:


More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…

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