WACO, Texas — Once again, Arkansas basketball put itself in position for a signature win Saturday afternoon. And once again, it came up just short.
The Razorbacks squandered a six-point halftime lead and Joseph Pinion missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer in their 67-64 loss at No. 17 Baylor inside the Ferrell Center.
It was a tough ending to a game that Arkansas grabbed control of with an 11-0 run to end the half and still led with five minutes remaining, with the loss dropping it to 0-5 in true road games.
“The one thing that you always want from your basketball team is to play as hard as they possibly can,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “Anybody that was here walked away and saw a great basketball game. I feel for the locker room. They’re giving it all they have.”
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it was an all-too-familiar ending. They also have three-point losses to Creighton and Missouri away from Fayetteville. All three of those could have been Quadrant 1 victories, according to the NET rankings, but instead they are now 1-5 in those games. The lone victory was the miracle win against San Diego State at the Maui Invitational.
Arkansas also lost at LSU by three, which is currently a Quad 2 loss and in danger of slipping into the Quad 3 range, as the Tigers are No. 131 and must stay in the top 135 to remain in the second quadrant.
As the calendar inches closer to February, those things start to loom very large when it comes to NCAA Tournament bids. The Razorbacks were 6-5 and 7-6 in Quadrant 1 games the last two years, when they earned 3 and 4 seeds, respectively.
“I’ve never had a season like this at all since I’ve been coaching and I’ve been coaching a long time,” Musselman said. “Like I said, I feel for the locker room. Three games could flip…four, whatever… I just hope we can figure out a way to continue to get better.”
‘Dagger’ Name Backfires
Saturday’s loss was particularly tough because Arkansas couldn’t have drawn up a better final play, considering the circumstances.
Baylor took a seven-point lead on a Keyonte George 3-pointer with 1:21 remaining, which could have been the final nail in the coffin, but the Razorbacks didn’t roll over and quit.
Eric Musselman praised his team for showing “no panic” and having excellent clock management down the stretch. That was particularly true in the final 10 seconds.
Coming out of a timeout with 8.8 seconds left, Arkansas had a play drawn up with three options for a 3 that would have tied the game, but Davonte Davis chose to drive it to the basket for a quick two instead of trying to force a 3. That made it a one-point game before LJ Cryer knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch it back to three.
Davis took the in-bounds and was fouled with 4.3 seconds left before getting a chance to get off a 3. Arkansas was still in the 1-and-1, but the plan was for him to make the first and then run a play Musselman picked up from Hubie Brown during his NBA days.
Even though Davis missed the first one, the Razorbacks still executed the play to perfection, with Kamani Johnson and Jalen Graham both appearing to tip the rebound to the right corner, where Joseph Pinion had bolted as soon as the shot went up. Unfortunately for Arkansas, the freshman sharp-shooter missed the open look, with the shot going off the top of the backboard.
“The free throw is exactly what we work on at the end of the summer — it’s called ‘Dagger,’” Musselman said. “Joseph had a good look. Just sometimes a shot doesn’t go. It’s tough to ask a guy who sat for that long as well.
“I thought the players did a really good job of clock management and gave ourselves an opportunity to potentially put the game into overtime.”
The name of the play actually backfired on the Razorbacks, as it proved to be the dagger in the heartbreaking loss.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Jalen Graham said he thought it was the “hardest we played” in a road game this season and that it was a “good performance,” but not enough to come away with the win.
“For us to come in here and be 0-4 (on the road) and still put up the fight that we did and having it come down to the last shot away is huge,” Graham said. “I think we’re going to change things around, to be honest.”
Toughing It Out
Just 2.5 minutes into the game, Anthony Black drove the middle of the lane and slid when trying to come to a jump stop. He was called for a travel — one of his only two turnovers — and, more importantly, came up limping after the play.
Less than a minute of game action later, Black checked out of the game. He immediately started getting treatment from the trainer, who rubbed his right knee before spending some time on the stationary bike and checking back in after missing less than three minutes.
The freshman ended up playing 35 minutes and finished with 7 points, 3 assists and 6 rebounds, several of which he had to sky for and grab in traffic — despite Eric Musselman revealing he is also dealing with a wrist injury and saying he’s “extremely banged up.”
“I knew he was going through some pain from the first half, but I knew he was never going to stop playing,” Graham said. “(Black) is tough. We need him. He’s a big guard, and we just need him to play. And he knows that we need him. He’s never going to give up on his team.”
Musselman also revealed that Makhel Mitchell was originally expected to miss 1.5-2.5 weeks with the injury he suffered against Ole Miss last Saturday. Instead, he missed only one game and returned against Baylor, playing 23 big minutes with his brother, Makhi, dealing with foul trouble.
Davonte Davis is dealing with some minor injuries, as well, so Musselman praised his team for fighting through the pain in a tight game against a ranked opponent.
“There was a point when we didn’t know if he was going to be able to go back in the game,” Musselman said. “Our trainer’s done a great job. … I mean, Makhel had a boot on and couldn’t walk three days ago. So we have a group of guys that are in uniform that are just, again, playing through injuries. I can’t compliment them enough.”
Injured stars Nick Smith Jr. (knee) and Trevon Brazile (ACL) did not travel with the team. Musselman said there was no update on Smith’s status when asked about it after the game.
Foul Disparity (Again)
In both his postgame radio interview with Chuck Barrett and with the media, Eric Musselman pointed to the free throw discrepancy as “obviously” the biggest difference in the game.
The Razorbacks ended up being called for five more fouls than Baylor, but the fouls were 11-4 at one point late in the second half. That resulted in the Bears shooting 21 of 24 (87.5%) from the line, compared to 6 of 11 (54.5%) by Arkansas.
“I thought we did a good job trying to attack the rim,” Musselman said. “In the first half offensively we were phenomenal. We were phenomenal defensively in the first half. Second half we just didn’t get to the foul line at all.”
Five of Arkansas’ fouls were called in a 52-second span about five minutes into the second half, getting Baylor into the bonus for the final 15 minutes.
“How much does it change when someone’s in the bonus that shoots fouls as good as their players? It drastically changes the game,” Musselman said. “I mean, five minutes into a half…”
From an individual standpoint, Jordan Walsh picked up two of those back-to-back, just one second apart. That doubled his foul total, sending him to the bench with four fouls. That limited him to just 9 minutes and 12 seconds in the second half.
“We lost one of our better defenders that can guard fours and guards,” Graham said. “We’re away, that’s all I can say about it. I’m not too happy about it. There were a lot of things that could have been called both ways, but it is what it is.”
In the first half, Musselman actually received a technical foul — his first of the season — when he disagreed with a call that went against Makhel Mitchell. The big man appeared to have established position when Keyonte George plowed through him on a drive to the basket, but instead of it being a charge, it was a blocking foul on Mitchell. George completed the 3-point play and LJ Cryer added the two technical free throws to make it a 5-point possession.
While Musselman continued to decline commenting specifically about the officials, as he doesn’t want to get fined, Graham said he and his teammates have come to expect such a discrepancy.
“We feel like that’s always going to happen away,” Graham said. “We just have to keep playing hard. We’re not going to get punked. We’re not going to back down. That’s not who we are. So, we’re going to keep pushing and we’re going to push back.”
One positive from the loss was the play of Ricky Council IV, the Razorbacks’ leading scorer who has struggled of late.
He surpassed his scoring total from the previous two games combined in the first half alone, with 14 points, and finished with 25 points on an efficient 10-of-17 shooting performance.
“I thought he did a great job of finding seams in the zone, especially in the second half,” Musselman said. “We kind of moved him around in different areas. I think our zone offense is drastically improved.”
Council was good in both halves, but was better in the first. He shot 6 of 7 in the first half, then 4 of 10 in the second half — while playing all but 51 seconds.
“First half, they got him to where they wanted to get him and he made some tough shots,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “He’s a really good player but he earned his points tonight. He didn’t get a lot of freebies and easy ones.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
With non-conference games fully behind them, the Razorbacks will only play SEC competition the rest of the regular season. They jump back into it Tuesday against Texas A&M at Bud Walton Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
The Aggies have been one of the more surprising SEC teams in conference play. Despite losses to Murray State, Boise State, Wofford and a couple of others in non-conference play, they won their first five SEC games before a tough loss at Kentucky.
It went on the road next and bounced back with an upset win at Auburn, snapping the Tigers’ nation-leading 28-game home winning streak. One of four teams not participating in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Texas A&M would move into a tie with Tennessee for second in the SEC standings with a win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- This is the final year of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, as ESPN is ditching it and replacing it with a similar event between the SEC and ACC. Saturday’s loss dropped Arkansas to 4-5 all-time in the challenge, with all four wins coming at home and all five losses coming on the road.
- As former members of the old Southwest Conference, Arkansas and Baylor have met on the hardwood quite a bit. Even though this was just the fourth time they’ve played as non-conference foes, the Bears are now the Razorbacks’ fourth-most common opponent, with 145 matchups. That moves them just ahead of Rice (144) while still trailing Texas A&M (164), SMU (155) and Texas (154). Even with losses in the last three, Arkansas leads the all-time series 96-49.
- The announced attendance at the Ferrell Center was 10,627 — a season high for Baylor and the second-largest ever in the building.
- Baylor was led by freshman phenom Keyonte George, a top-10 prospect in the 2022 class. A childhood best friend of Anthony Black, he scored 24 points on 8 of 20 shooting. “He’s phenomenal,” Musselman said. “He just rose up, knocked down his foul shots. Just has an incredible-looking shot… I mean, he’s a really, really, really special player — really special player.”
- As a team, the Bears shot a season-worst 33.9% (20 of 59) from the field. “Coach wanted to do a goalie and he also wanted to hit off a couple of their players that he thought were not good scorers, good drivers or people that can’t make plays,” Graham said. “We were just hitting off those guys and letting those guys catch the ball and try to make plays. It was working in our favor. That was the main reason why they were pretty much shooting bad.”
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Arkansas vs Baylor Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Baylor Box Score
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