FAYETTEVILLE — It was a night of firsts at Bud Walton Arena, but none of them were good for Arkansas basketball.
The No. 14 Razorbacks dug themselves too big of a hole Friday and couldn’t avoid the upset, falling to UNC Greensboro 78-72 inside Bud Walton Arena.
Not only was it the Spartans’ first ever win over a ranked team and an SEC team, but it was also the first time an Eric Musselman-coached team lost a true home non-conference. He had been 58-0, including a 36-0 mark at Arkansas.
Making the loss even tougher to swallow was the fact that the same issues that have plagued the Razorbacks so far this season — leading to Musselman being unhappy even after wins — flared up once again. They just finally ran into a team good enough to make them pay for it.
“I think a job for our staff is if we’re not doing things the way we need to, we have to make adjustments,” Musselman said. “We can’t keep doing the same thing, because every team’s personality, every team’s personnel strengths and weaknesses are different. I’ve got to come up with a little bit different scheme than what we’ve seen thus far. And we will. Whether it works or not, I don’t know.”
Defense is where Arkansas has struggled the most. Specifically, Musselman is frustrated with his team’s perimeter defense, as the Razorbacks have had a hard time stopping dribble drives and defending the 3-point line.
In addition to shooting 9 of 24 (37.5%) from beyond the arc, UNC Greensboro also made 14 dunks/layups, according to the official stats. Throw in 17 free throws (on 23 attempts), many of which came on fouls driving to the basket, and that accounted for all but six of the Spartans’ total points.
“We’ve basically had the same defensive concepts for eight years and might have to look at changing some things based on our lack of ability to — especially the guard play — to keep the ball in front of us and also contest the 3,” Musselman said. “That seems to be problematic to do both.”
Arkansas opened the season by limiting Alcorn State and Gardner-Webb to only 9 of 32 (28.1%) from beyond the arc, but followed it up with a miserable week in which Old Dominion and UNC Greensboro shot 20 of 48 (41.7%).
“Not getting close enough to guys, not having enough desperation,” Musselman said. “If you don’t think that we’ve talked about defending the 3, I’ve talked about it with you guys. It’s been discussed. It’s up to us to fix it, so we’ve got to get back to the drawing board.”
Musselman was given an opportunity to take away a positive or two from the game when asked about his team’s improved transition defense, but he wasn’t about to take a moral victory from a loss to a team Arkansas was favored to beat by double digits.
“We lost the game, so I’m not going to sit here and tell everybody, ‘Hey, we played a great second half, it’s something to build on,’” Musselman said. “No, we lost the game. It’s a 40-minute game for a reason and we lost. So we’ve got to get better across the board.”
Ugly First Half on Offense
The Razorbacks got off to another slow start and never really kicked it into gear before halftime.
After having only four turnovers the entire game Monday against Old Dominion, Arkansas tripled that number in the first half against UNC Greensboro. Its 12 turnovers early on led to 16 points for the Spartans.
El Ellis, who played 34 turnover-free minutes just a few days earlier, was responsible for four of those and Khalif Battle also had his pocket picked a couple of times.
“They got a lot of back-tap steals and on-ball steals,” Tramon Mark said. “Those two guards, they’re real crafty with their hands and getting steals so I think that’s where most of our turnovers came from.”
When they weren’t turning it over, the Razorbacks were throwing up bricks, shooting just 37.0% (10 of 27) from the floor in the first half. That included going just 1 of 10 from deep.
Those shooting struggles continued into the second half, as Arkansas missed 14 straight 3s at one point and started the game 1 of 17. Thanks to three makes in the final three minutes, the Razorbacks finished 4 of 23.
It was a surprising performance considering they came into the day shooting an impressive 40.3% from deep.
“I think we were just missing shots,” Mark said. “We shoot the ball, I feel like good, in practice. We shoot a lot of shots. We work on it, so I just feel like they just weren’t falling. We got a lot of good looks.”
Afterward, Musselman told reporters that he wasn’t particularly happy with the shot selection in the first half and that he believed his guys took too many 3s.
It was when the Razorbacks started attacking the basket and getting layups or free throws that they started to cut into the deficit and pull within four a couple of times midway through the second half.
Couple that new plan of attack with taking care of the ball with only one turnover and that’s how Arkansas doubled its scoring output (48) points in the second half.
Impact on NCAA Tourney Resume
Even though UNC Greensboro is a good team, it isn’t exactly a good loss for Arkansas basketball to have on its NCAA Tournament resume.
Because the game was in Fayetteville, the Spartans would have to be ranked in the 31-75 range of the NET rankings for it to be a Quadrant 2 loss. Those don’t come out until next month, but it’s likely to be a Q3 loss instead, as UNC Greensboro checks in at No. 96 on KenPom and the SoCon isn’t traditionally a super strong league. Last year’s regular-season champion, Furman, was ranked No. 88 in the NET.
“When you lose a game like this, it puts a dent in you, quite frankly,” Musselman said. “This loss is a loss that’s detrimental because it’s a home game. I’m not going to shy away from that. I’m disappointed that we lost the game.”
The Spartans had the second-best NET ranking in the SoCon last year at No. 114. They now return several players from a team that went 20-12 and are picked to finish second in the league, behind only Furman.
As a quality mid-major program, UNC Greensboro has struggled to fill out its schedule, so head coach Mike Jones was especially thrilled that Arkansas invited his team back for a second straight year.
“Nobody wants to play us,” Jones said. “That’s why I take my hat off to Coach Musselman for scheduling us. But you’ve got to challenge your team if you want to be great, and he understands that.”
“Gardner-Webb is a good team, Old Dominion is a good team and we’re a good team. So he’s not afraid to play good teams. A lot of these high majors have been afraid to schedule a mid-major team like ours.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks don’t have long to feel sorry for themselves, as they are set to fly to the Bahamas on Monday for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which begins Wednesday.
Stanford (6:30 p.m. CT Wednesday) is first up on the docket, followed by either Memphis or Michigan on Thursday. Friday’s opponent will either be North Carolina, Texas Tech, Villanova or Northern Iowa.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Despite playing all but 27 seconds Friday, Davonte Davis did not commit a single turnover. He’s up to 123 turnover-free minutes through four games.
- Arkansas had no answer for UNC Greensboro guard Keyshaun Langley, especially in the first half when he scored 18 points. The Razorbacks were better against him after halftime, but he still finished with 23 points to go along with five assists, three rebounds and four steals. “He really got the better of us, for sure, in the first half and we made some adjustments,” Musselman said. “We changed who was guarding him. We tried to deny him the ball. We got burned on one back-door, but other than that, I thought we did a good job of denying his catches a little bit more in the second half.”
- For the first time this year, Musselman tweaked the starting lineup, inserting another guard — Jeremiah Davenport — in place of Chandler Lawson. That moved Brazile into the 5 spot.
- Marion native Tim Ceasar — who previously played at Coastal Carolina and BYU — played 26 minutes off the bench and scored 7 points on 3 of 5 shooting for the Spartans.
Arkansas vs UNC Greensboro Highlights
Arkansas vs UNC Greensboro Box Score
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