An Improbable SEC Milestone Reached in Arkansas vs Missouri

Anthony Black, Kobe Brown, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Missouri
photo credit: Nick Wenger / Missouri Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Missouri

Pregame Tidbits

Star freshman Nick Smith Jr. is not in the building because he is seeing a specialist for his knee, according to a UA spokesperson.

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens is in attendance.

6:59, 1H – Missouri 25, Arkansas 14

Missouri started out the game hot from beyond the arc and Arkansas can’t figure out how to beat the Tigers’ zone. The Hogs’ half court offense has looked pretty ugly for much of the first half so far. They’re just passing the ball around the perimeter and not really doing anything. At one point, they committed a shot clock violation without even trying to get a shot off.

The deficit was as much as 17 midway through the half before a mini run by the Razorbacks got it back down to 11.

Arkansas is just 1 of 9 from beyond the arc and 5 of 17 (29.4%) from the field with seven turnovers.

HALF – Missouri 34, Arkansas 27

The Razorbacks did finally show some signs of life. They held Missouri scoreless over the final 2:56 and scored the last eight points of the half. The last of those points came on a corner 3 by Joseph Pinion.

That was just the second 3-pointer of the game for Arkansas, which went 2 of 12 from beyond the arc. That was part of a pretty rough first half of offense, as it also shot just 35.7% (10 of 28) from the field and 5 of 10 (50%) from the charity stripe while committing 10 turnovers.

Pinion leads the team in scoring at the half with 7 points, followed by Kamani Johnson with 5.

First Half Stats

11:15, 2H – Arkansas 46, Missouri 44

Arkansas took its first lead of the game when a Joseph Pinion hustle play led to a dunk by Ricky Council IV that cut the deficit to one and then Davonte Davis converted another fast break opportunity with a reverse layup at the 14:23 mark.

Pinion followed with a 3 and Bud Walton erupted, as it made it 46-42. The Razorbacks had several opportunities to add to their lead, but Davis made a couple of ill-advised passes that led to turnovers.

FINAL – Arkansas 74, Missouri 68

The Razorbacks used a 7-0 run midway through the second half to stretch their lead to 8 and it hovered around that margin for the next several minutes. Missouri made it close down the stretch, though.

The Tigers had a chance to cut their deficit to 2 with a pair of free throws with about 27 seconds left, but made only one. Ricky Council grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled, sending him to the free throw line where he made both attempts.

That gave Arkansas some breathing room, but Missouri answered with a quick, wide-open layup. Council made both of his free throws after that, grabbed the rebound on a missed 3-pointer and then knocked down two more to essentially ice the game.

Council was phenomenal in the second half. After scoring only 4 points in the first half, he poured in 21 after halftime and was particularly clutch at the charity stripe.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Missouri

Starting Lineups – Arkansas vs Missouri

#2 – G Tre Gomillion#0 – G Anthony Black
#5 – G D’Moi Hodge#4 – G Davonte Davis
#10 – G Nick Honor#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#13 – F Ronnie DeGray III#13 – G/F Jordan Walsh
#24 – F Kobe Brown#15 – F/C Makhi Mitchell

Arkansas vs Missouri Preview

When the Arkansas basketball team opens its home SEC slate this week, it will mark an improbable first for the program.

The No. 13 Razorbacks (11-2, 0-1 SEC) are set to host a red-hot Missouri (12-1, 1-0) team fresh off back-to-back double-digit wins over top-20 teams that checked in at No. 20 in the latest AP Poll.

It’s the first time Arkansas’ SEC home opener has been between ranked teams since joining the conference three decades ago. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. CT Wednesday and it will be televised on the SEC Network.

While the Tigers are riding high after beating Illinois and Kentucky their last two games, the Razorbacks are looking to right the ship after a tough 60-57 loss at LSU. It was the 34th time that an Arkansas team led by head coach Eric Musselman held an opponent to 60 points or less, but the first time it lost while doing so.

Although they’ve played several games away from Fayetteville, that was the Razorbacks’ first true road test and the rowdy environment in Baton Rouge seemed to rattle the young Arkansas squad. It struggled shooting the ball and took a season-high 25 attempts from beyond the 3-point line as a team, largely due to LSU’s willingness to concede long-range shots to a Razorback team missing two of their top shooters and shooting only 32% as a team prior to this matchup.

For the first time in 14 days, though, Arkansas will be back in front of its home crowd. Facing a one-loss and ranked Missouri team is no easy task, but being at Bud Walton Arena — where they are 55-6 under Musselman — couldn’t come at a better time for the Razorbacks.

What to Expect from Missouri

The Tigers are led by a pair of seniors: D’Moi Hodge (6-foot-4 guard) and Kobe Brown (6-foot-7 forward). Hodge currently leads the team in scoring at 16.5 points per game while hitting 42% from long range, but he might soon lose the title of team-leading scorer with the way Brown has been scoring the ball lately.

On the season, the senior forward is averaging 15.6 points and 5.7 rebounds on 46% shooting from long range. In Missouri’s last two games – both head-turning wins – Kobe Brown has looked more like his namesake, Kobe Bryant. He scored 31 and 30 points, respectively, while shooting 7 of 12 (58%) from long range and averaging 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals over his last two games.

“He scored 61 points,” Musselman said in Monday’s press conference. “When you look at who he scored them against — Illinois and Kentucky — two really good teams, two physical teams, two teams with size. But he can score the ball from 3-point land, he can score the ball off the bounce.

“They’re running him handling the ball as a pick-and-roll player, which is a new dimension to his game. To have a 4-man or if they go small ball and he plays 5, to have that guy be a ball handler in an angle/elbow pick-and-roll, there’s a lot of different things… He’s a movable piece that you can put in scoring positions in different spots on the court.”

Offensively, Missouri is lethal. It scores 88.8 points per game on 51% shooting from the field and 37% shooting from long range – both percentages ranking top 30 in the country. The Tigers have five players who play at least 10 minutes per game shooting 36% or better from beyond the arc, led by Hodge and Brown.

Other notable Missouri shooters:

  • Nick Honor shoots 45% on 4.3 attempts per game.
  • Noah Carter shoots 36% on 3.6 attempts per game.
  • Tre Gomillion shoots 36% on 0.8 attempts per game.

What to Expect from Arkansas

The Razorbacks’ first road game of the season was also the first true road environment for all six of their true freshmen – though Nick Smith Jr. remains sidelined indefinitely for “right knee management.” It was also the first taste of SEC road games for everyone else on the roster not named Davonte Davis or Kamani Johnson.

Considering these firsts, along with the injuries plaguing the Razorbacks, it’s somewhat impressive that the Hogs gave themselves two chances to take the lead in the closing seconds of the game.

Moral victories don’t appear in the win column, though, so the Razorbacks had work to do when they went back to the drawing board over their week-long New Year’s break. As a team, the Razorbacks shot 37% from the field, 16% from long range and 50% from the free throw line and scored 57 points – their first time scoring less than 65 points all season.

Musselman said the biggest culprit for the poor offensive outing is lack of experience, something that can only be combated with more game time and, well, experience. He’s trying to speed up that process in practice, however.

“We’ve gone more live than we probably ever have in the seven-and-a-half years I’ve been a college coach to try to clean up some areas that we want to improve on, both offensively and defensively,” Musselman said.

While drills on air or against fake defenders are necessary as a teaching tool, this practice strategy allows Musselman and his players to teach and learn in real time, perhaps the easiest way to gain in-game experience.

With the continued absence of Smith, the Razorbacks struggled to find production off the bench against LSU. They had only 12 combined minutes from Kamani Johnson, Jalen Graham and Joseph Pinion. In that time, the three players combined for 1 rebound, 1 missed shot, 2 turnovers and 4 fouls. Anthony Black, Ricky Council IV and Devo Davis were credited with all 40 minutes against LSU.

With “no update” on Smith, according to Musselman, the Hogs will almost certainly have to find more value from at least one bench player. Musselman is known to run a short, 6-7 player rotation down the stretch — and that strategy has proven successful.

However, the Hogs essentially played 5 players in their loss to LSU, likely an unsustainable strategy through conference play. Watch for bench players to get another opportunity to prove themselves in this home matchup against Missouri.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Missouri

Missouri is now ranked in the top 25 for the first time this season, sitting with only one loss and a pair of impressive wins under its belt in the last 14 days. Back on Dec. 22, Missouri defeated then No. 16 Illinois 93-71 in St. Louis before turning around and defeating then No. 19 Kentucky 89-75 in Columbia on Dec. 28. In these two games, Missouri averaged 91 points while shooting 54% from the field and 44% from long range.

This game essentially boils down to the red-hot offense of Missouri facing the suffocating defense of Arkansas on the Razorbacks’ home court – where the Razorbacks have held their opponents to an average of 55.7 points per game. The Tigers have played only one true road game, but they scored 88 points in an overtime victory over Wichita State.

The impressive scoring output is nothing new for the Tigers. They rank No. 3 in the country in scoring at 88.8 points per game, No. 4 in assists at 19.9 per game, and No. 4 in team field goal percentage at 51.1%. The Tigers also rank No. 4 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings.

“We need to continue to do a good job defending the 3, especially knowing the 3-point shooting ability that guys like Hodge and Honor and Kobe Brown and Noah Carter,” Musselman said. “Those guys in particular are really good 3-point shooters.”

He continued: “Missouri is a little bit different because Hodge will get some leak-out threes where he’ll shoot those in transition. He’s got great confidence. Brown and Carter, two guys that can play the 4 or the 5, are really good trail three-point shooters, so I think every team’s got a different identity. But you’ve got to locate those guys quickly in transition, and they’re really good at getting loose balls.”

The Tigers’ defense has been hit or miss, however. In their two impressive wins to end December, the Tigers held their opponents to 73 points on 43% from the field and 28% from beyond the arc. On the season, they rank No. 150 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings — Arkansas ranks No. 5 in the same metric.

The Tigers also rank outside the top 300 in scoring defense. They’ve allowed six different opponents to score at least 80 points — a mark the Hogs have allowed just once, when Creighton tallied 90 points in Maui.

On the other hand, the Tigers rank No. 1 in the country in steals per game with 12.5 — Arkansas ranks eighth at 10.5. Missouri has held four opponents under 68 points, a mark Arkansas has held their opponents at or below 10 times this season.

Musselman knows this challenge is only the first of what will be an especially tough stretch with a road game at No. 22 Auburn and home tilt vs No. 7 Alabama on tap. “Auburn’s going to be a unique, tough environment. With our age and our lack of SEC experience, we are going to be a team that continues to learn, especially through the first half of this season,” he said. “And we knew that coming in. We knew with six freshmen out of 13 players that that was going to be the case. Regardless of talent level, it’s the first time going through this experience, close games, all those things.”

Game Prediction – Arkansas vs Missouri

Arkansas will struggle to score again, even on its homecourt, as Missouri’s disruptive defense does just enough to bother the young Hogs. However, the hometown crowd will help power what is already a potent defensive attack for the Razorbacks as they stifle the Tigers’ offensive onslaught.

Ricky Council IV will get back on track after his second-worst shooting game of the season against LSU from an efficiency standpoint, leading the Razorbacks in scoring against Missouri. Makhi Mitchell will limit star forward Kobe Brown despite his back-to-back 30-point outings in his last two games. The Missouri big man will shoot below his season averages from the field and 3-point line.

The Tigers fall on the road as Arkansas picks up its first SEC win of the season.

Arkansas, 75-65

How to Watch Arkansas vs Missouri

Date: Wednesday, Jan. 4

Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 7:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has a 77.6% chance to win, favored by 12.9 points


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