Arkansas vs Ole Miss May Hinge on a Surprise Most Important Piece for Struggling Hogs Offense

Jordan Walsh, Matthew Murrell, Arkansas basketball, Ole Miss basketball, Arkansas vs Ole Miss
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / Ole Miss Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Ole Miss

Pregame Tidbits

After being away from the team for a couple weeks to see a specialist in California, Nick Smith Jr. is back in Fayetteville and with the team. He is still out indefinitely for “right knee management.”

Yet again, Eric Musselman has shuffled his starting unit. Jordan Walsh is back in the starting five, replacing Makhi Mitchell – who had started every game this season.

The starting five of Black, Davis, Council, Walsh and Johnson played together for just 16 seconds against Missouri on Wednesday and were outscored 1-0.

11:19, 1H – Ole Miss 17, Arkansas 15

Derrian Ford and Makhi Mitchell were the first players off the bench.

After a solid game against Missouri, Davonte Davis is off to another hot start for the Razorbacks. He’s gotten to the rim and finished a couple of times in the first five minutes, including one late in the shot clock. He also later knocked down a 3 and has seven points early.

Arkansas is playing okay offensively, probably better than it has much of the SEC slate, but simply cannot stop Ole Miss. The Rebels came into today ranked 136th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, but are 7 of 11 from the floor at the U12 media timeout.

HALF – Arkansas 32, Ole Miss 29

Arkansas got in the bonus with 8:22 left in the half, but shot just 3 of 8 from the free throw line.

The Rebels led by as many as five, but the Razorbacks were able to quickly fight back into it thanks to turnovers by Ole Miss – nine of them. It was a one-possession game for much of the final 10 minutes of the half, except when Joseph Pinion buried back-to-back 3s put the Hogs up by 4 and 5, respectively.

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs Ole Miss

11:57, 2H – Arkansas 49, Ole Miss 36

Despite failing to score after four straight turnovers by the Rebels to start the second half, the Razorbacks have started to pull away.

Anthony Black has scored nine of Arkansas’ 17 points this half and the Razorbacks are shooting 7 of 13 (53.8%) as a team.

Matthew Murrell, Ole Miss’ leading scorer, is out of the game after having to be helped off the court with an apparent leg injury.

FINAL – Arkansas 69, Ole Miss 57

Back-to-back 3s by Davonte Davis and Jordan Walsh stretched Arkansas’ lead to 21 with 6:16 remaining, but Ole Miss answered with three straight 3s in the span of 64 seconds. Daeshun Ruffin made the first two before Tye Fagan made one, and then Jaemyn Brakefield threw down a fast break dunk.

That last play made it an 11-1 run by the Rebels and led to Musselman calling a timeout with 4:20 left and Ole Miss within 64-53.

That seemed to settle the Razorbacks down and they used stall ball to close out the game.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Ole Miss

Starting Lineups

Ole MissArkansas
#1 – G Amaree Abram#0 – G Anthony Black
#5 – G James White#4 – G Davonte Davis
#11 – G Matthew Murrell#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#00 – F Jayveous McKinnis#13 – G/F Jordan Walsh
#4 – F Jaemyn Brakefield#20 – F Kamani Johnson

Arkansas vs Ole Miss Preview

For the first time since they lost five straight when Isaiah Joe missed a couple of weeks with an injury in his first season, Eric Musselman and the Arkansas basketball team is in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

The Razorbacks’ 79-76 loss at Missouri on Wednesday was actually their fifth loss in six games — a stretch similar to what they experienced last year — and their second straight blown second-half double-digit lead.

A combination of turnovers, stagnant offense and several questionable calls down the stretch led to the Tigers rallying from a 10-point deficit over the final five minutes. Four players fouled out for Arkansas in a game that took more than 2.5 hours of real time to complete.

“I’ve never coached a team that had four foul outs before,” Musselman said postgame. “And then you add in the fact, obviously, that you have a player out with a season-ending injury and another guy that hasn’t been with your team, you’re down six players to close out the game. I feel like I’ve been around a lot, coached a lot. I’ve never experienced that in all the years that I’ve been coaching.”

If the officials called the game even marginally better, the Hogs might have been able to hold onto their double-digit lead. In the same breath, if Arkansas had held onto the ball a bit better (21 turnovers), it certainly would have held onto its lead. The team can only control what it’s able to change and not put itself in a position to lean heavily on SEC referees – especially on the road.

Even with the disappointing collapse late, there were several positives early in the game against Missouri, who currently ranks No. 53 in the NET rankings. Fortunately for Arkansas, the next two games also provide a much-needed return to Bud Walton Arena and an opportunity to build on any positive momentum against teams ranking outside the NET top 100.

With the season trending as poorly as it ever has under Musselman, every game is becoming vital for Arkansas. These next two games against Ole Miss (9-9, 1-5) and LSU (12-6, 1-5) at home are virtually “must wins” if the Hogs want to salvage their season and position themselves for any semblance of an NCAA Tournament run. The matchup against the Rebels is set to tip off at 11 a.m. CT Saturday and will be televised on ESPN2.

What to Expect from Ole Miss

The Rebels are led by junior guard Matthew Murrell. The 6-foot-4 scorer is playing in his third year for Ole Miss and averaging career highs nearly across the board – including 15.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals. He has played Arkansas twice, including an efficient outing last January, when he tallied 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals on 40% 3-point shooting.

“Murrell’s a really good scorer,” Musselman said. “He’s got 3-point range. You’ve got to chase him off screens with the high hand before the catch. You’ve got to locate him as he comes across half court. Can’t give him any air space.”

This season, however, Murrell’s long-range shooting has notably dropped to 29.7% after hitting 38.6% of his attempts last season. Prior to a 5-of-11 performance in the Rebels’ win over South Carolina, Murrell was on a seven-game stretch in which he shot 8 of 49 (16%) from distance. Expect Davonte Davis to draw this defensive matchup in an attempt to keep Murrell from getting hot from beyond the arc.

The Rebels’ leader in assists, 5-foot-9 sophomore Daeshun Ruffin, hasn’t played since Jan. 10 against Auburn. He didn’t make his season debut until Dec. 3 after dealing with a knee injury. The undersized guard has averaged 2.9 assists to go along with 8.6 points when healthy this season.

A trio of wings makes up the majority of the rest of the scoring for Ole Miss. Jaemyn Brakefield, a 6-foot-8 forward, averages 8.9 points and 5.3 rebounds on 37% 3-point shooting while playing the second-most minutes on the team.

Amaree Abram, a 6-foot-4 guard, averages 8.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists while also shooting better than 35% from long range. Myles Burns, a 6-foot-6 forward, leads the team in rebounding at 6.3 per game to go along with 6.3 points and 2.2 steals.

As a team, Ole Miss does not score the ball particularly well. It ranks 254th in the country in field goal percentage at roughly 43% on the season. That has dropped to 39.8% against SEC opponents and 38.4% in SEC road games.

This is largely due to the Rebels’ poor 3-point shooting. They are one of the few teams who have been worse from long range than Arkansas, currently shooting 29.8% on the season and 26.3% in SEC road games.

What to Expect from Arkansas

Speaking of long-range shooting, Arkansas just had its best shooting game since their 63% 3-point shooting outburst when it scored 99 points against San Diego State. In their loss to Missouri on Wednesday, the Hogs shot 7 of 17 (41%) from distance, making them 14 of 35 (40%) in their last two games.

While Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV led the shooting attack against Vanderbilt, it was an unexpected pair of shooters that stepped up against Missouri. Davonte Davis had his best game of the season, matching his season high of 18 points while also tallying 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal while hitting 3 of 7 long-range attempts. He shot 41% from the field overall.

Jordan Walsh also put together one of his best games, though he inexplicably fouled out in only 13 minutes of action. Regardless of the refs maintaining a tight whistle all night, Walsh still scored 12 points on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, including a pair of 3s. He also grabbed two rebounds in his limited action.

Arkansas is now 6-2 when Walsh scores at least 7 points, with their only two losses coming to LSU and Missouri on the road – though the latter might have ended differently if Walsh was afforded more time on the court. The Hogs are also 3-1 when Walsh makes two or more 3s, with Missouri being the lone loss.

When the freshman forward plays well offensively, he boosts the entire Razorback offense to a new level – both because of the additional points he provides and the attention he draws from the defense, allowing other players to play more freely. Watch for Walsh to continue his good play over this two-game homestand coming up for Arkansas.

“Based on his productivity tonight he would have played a lot more, but he played 13 minutes and fouled out,” Musselman said after the Missouri loss. “We’re trying to continue to build his confidence, and continue to tell him to take open shots. Him fouling out tonight was extremely crucial. We were plus-13 when he was in the game for his 13 minutes. This is what happens when you have freshmen. Jordan is still figuring his way.”

The Hogs are still searching for the perfect combination of players, though a few things seem to be getting clearer. For starters, it’s hard to play Kamani Johnson alongside any other big man with his limitations offensively – which is exactly what Musselman opted to do against Missouri with Johnson and Makhi Mitchell in an attempt to slow down Kobe Brown.

Brown still scored 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting while committing only one foul all game. Johnson ended up posting the worst plus-minus on the team at minus-14, though it wasn’t entirely his fault. He is a good rotation piece – especially defensively and on the boards – but the lack of spacing he provides as a power forward is simply unsustainable for the offense.

Walsh, on the other hand, was a team-high plus-13 in only 13 minutes of action. He has been arguably the least consistent player for the Razorbacks this season – and it wasn’t Musselman’s fault that Walsh averaged a foul every two minutes – but it appears the young forward is perhaps the most important piece for the struggling Razorback offense.

That is, at least until the ultra-talented Nick Smith Jr. returns — which could be on the horizon, as he teased Thursday on Instagram. For now, Walsh looks like the kind of X-factor that can help turn the tide of games if Black and Council maintain their consistently high levels of play.

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Ole Miss

Ole Miss – currently ranked No. 103 in the NET rankings – has lost nine of its last 12 games, including six of its last seven. The only win in that latter stretch came in the Rebels’ last time out, as they went on the road and held South Carolina (No. 282 NET) to 37% shooting in a 70-58 victory.

On the season, the Rebels have been a decent defensive squad – not because they’re disruptive, but rather because they tend to slow down the pace of the game and force opponents to earn every basket. The Rebels rank No. 251 in adjusted pace of play and outside the top 100 in fast break points with roughly 11.1 points per game. Arkansas ranks No. 55 in pace of play and No. 69 in fast break points with roughly 12.2 per game.

The Rebels check in at No. 53 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency and limit opponents to 41% shooting from the field, including 42% against SEC teams. They only force 12.0 turnovers per game on the season and 9.5 against SEC teams. They play a few different defensive schemes, including a 1-3-1 zone that Musselman knows could give his team trouble if they’re unable to execute against it.

After committing 21 turnovers against Missouri, even if a couple of these came on questionable offensive foul calls, Arkansas should be looking to adjust the way they take care of the ball. It’s an uphill battle for a team with only three ball handlers:

  • Anthony Black, a true freshman still adjusting to SEC play
  • Davonte Davis, a “home run hitter” who makes really good plays along with a few really bad plays
  • Ricky Council IV, a pure slashing wing player who had never played the point guard position in his life before Arkansas.

On paper, Arkansas should be able to handle Ole Miss on its home court, but taking care of the ball and learning to function offensively without turning it over will be key – not only for this game, but also the stretch of need-to-win games coming up on the Razorbacks’ schedule.

Game Prediction

Arkansas will build upon its impressive shooting against Missouri, continuing to figure out the best way to score with their current roster construction. Ole Miss will try to slow the game down, but Arkansas’ length and raw talent will allow it to continue its high-scoring streak (80 ppg in the last two games).

The Bud Walton crowd will energize a young Razorback team on the brink of desperation mode as they key in defensively to match their increased offensive output. Arkansas picks up its first win in five games — and does so in impressive fashion.

Arkansas, 86-74

How to Watch Arkansas vs Ole Miss

Date: Saturday, Jan. 21

Location: Bud Walton Arena (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 11 a.m. CT (ESPN2)

ESPN BPI: Arkansas has an 86.4% chance to win, favored by 12.2 points


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