Khalif Battle’s Destruction of Mizzou Began with His Grandma’s Hardcore Babysitting Technique

Khalif Battle, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Missouri
photo credit: Craven Whitlow / Khalif Battle via Hogs+

FAYETTEVILLE — No one can give Khalif Battle a red light. Not the U.S. president and certainly not Eric Musselman. If they do, the Arkansas guard will just ignore it.

On Saturday, that was never even a thought. The fifth-year senior had a green light all game and poured in a career high 42 points to carry the Razorbacks to an 88-73 win at Bud Walton Arena that completed the season sweep of Missouri.

It has been an up-and-down year for Battle, but he almost couldn’t miss against the Tigers (8-19, 0-14 SEC). His 42 points came on 11-of-15 shooting, including 6 of 10 from deep, and he was a perfect 14 of 14 at the free throw line.

“Coach earlier this year, he said if I got a red light, I’m still going to make it green,” Battle said. “The President of the United States can tell me to stop shooting the ball, I’m still going to shoot the ball, I’m going to be honest. That’s just who I am, that’s what I do. My grandma always says, ‘When you know who you are, you know what you do.’ I know who I am, and I know what I do. I’m a scorer.”

It was the most points scored by an Arkansas basketball player since Rotnei Clarke’s school-record 51 points against Alcorn State in 2009 and he was one point shy of matching Todd Day’s UA record for an SEC game, which he set at LSU in 1992.

The last time an SEC player eclipsed 40 points on 15 or fewer field goals was five years ago, when Tennessee’s Grant Williams — a first-round pick now with the Hornets — did it against Vanderbilt.

“That’s about as great an offensive performance as a player could have,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “Because when you look at the efficiency of only 15 field goals and to get 42 points, I mean, that’s insane.”

Only three Division I players have scored more than Battle’s 42 points this season — Denver’s Tommy Bruner (49), South Dakota’s Kaleb Stewart (44) and Xavier’s Quincy Olivari (43).

Each of those guys are averaging at least 16 points this season, though. Battle entered Saturday averaging just 10.6 and, until a recent uptick, his scoring fell off dramatically in SEC play. There were a couple of games he either didn’t play or was on the floor for less than 10 minutes.

“I think this year for me was an NBA rookie year,” Battle said. “It’s not going to be your team, it’s not going to be your way, but you got to find a way to earn your minutes and you got to be the first one in the gym, work hard in practice, pay attention in the film room. This is the hardest year I’ve had playing basketball, so to have these results means the world to me.”

That work ethic was something Battle learned at a young age growing up in New Jersey, from seeing his mother work as a waitress and his father go through the challenges of being laid off. But in an interview with Hogs+ earlier in the season, he said his grandmother, Catherine Battle, deserves the credit for his basketball success. She passed away in 2013.

“She was a janitor, she cleaned schools, so she wanted me to stay busy and not doing the wrong thing so she locked me in the gym for hours while she would clean the school,” Battle told Hogs+. “I literally couldn’t leave. And then she just rolled out a basketball, said, ‘Do something with it.’

“My brother, my cousin, we would play full court to like 100 and we’ll just keep on doing that. And then we’ll play horse or whatever the case may be. But we would be in the gym for, I would say, 6-7 hours.”

That hardcore babysitting technique by his grandmother set the stage for Battle’s rise in the basketball ranks over the years, culminating in Saturday’s historic performance.

Battle’s 26 points in the second half by itself would have been a season high, but he already had 16 points at halftime.

“We ran a couple of things for him early and then we really started running stuff for him late,” Musselman said. “But the ball has to have eyes against Missouri. You’re not going to beat them off the dribble and KB had a lot of feet-set 3s, as well. Then once he got cooking, it was just a matter of trying to space the floor and let him go to work, much like we have done with Mason (Jones) and some other guys.”

Perhaps the biggest shots Battle made were back-to-back 3s midway through the second half that turned Arkansas’ one-point lead into a seven-point lead.

Then, a couple minutes later, he drilled a deep 3 despite getting fouled and then made the free throw to complete the rare 4-point play. That capped a stretch of 15 straight points Battle scored for the Razorbacks and was essentially the dagger. Missouri never got within eight after that shot.

“I was on the free throw line and kept looking at the scoreboard like, ‘Dang, going up and up,’” teammate Davonte Davis said with a smile. “But he played really good. Excited for him. I was asking him in the middle of the game, ‘Is this your career high?’ I didn’t know. So it was amazing I was able to watch it, get a few assists from him, making the shots that he was making.”

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Battle played nearly 38 minutes and didn’t commit a single turnover, plus his perfect 14-of-14 performance at the free throw line tied a UA record for the most without a miss in a single game.

Makhi Mitchell’s Impact

He didn’t light up the scoreboard like he did the last two games, when he set back-to-back career highs, but Makhi Mitchell was still a critical piece of the Razorbacks’ success.

Arkansas was a whopping plus-19 in the 27 minutes and 50 seconds he was on the floor. Extrapolated across a full 40 minutes, that’d be a 27-point margin. That’s a stark contrast to the minus-4 it was during the 12 minutes and 10 seconds he was on the bench — a 13-point margin the other way.

Saying Mitchell was a 40-point swing might be a bit of an exaggeration, but he was still very good against the Tigers. He finished with 13 points on 4 of 8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal.

It’s the seventh time he’s scored in double figures in the last eight games after doing so just twice in the first 19 games of the season.

Over that stretch, Mitchell is averaging 14 points on 58.6% shooting and 8 rebounds. He’s also shooting 82.4% on 6.4 free throw attempts per game.

Return of Trevon Brazile

After missing seven straight games with knee soreness, Trevon Brazile returned to the floor Saturday afternoon.

In his first action since Jan. 24, the big man logged 4 minutes in the first half and didn’t record any statistics other than committing and drawing one foul.

“He’s worked extremely hard on his rehab,” Musselman said. “But the group that’s been playing well for us, that was the group we kind of rolled with and, this late in the year, to work people back in becomes problematic, (to be) quite honest.”

Brazile was the only one of Arkansas’ three injured players who returned Saturday despite all three going through warmups.

In his pregame interview on the UA radio broadcast, Musselman said Jalen Graham (shoulder) was available “if needed,” but that the hope was to give him a few more days. Keyon Menifield Jr. (groin) was still sore and deemed doubtful even before registering a second straight DNP.

Up Next for Arkansas Basketball

The Razorbacks have a chance to stretch their winning streak to three games — which would match their longest of the season regardless of opponent — when they host Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. CT Tuesday.

After a 13-point loss at Florida on Saturday, the Commodores are just 7-20 overall and 2-12 in SEC play. That means they are one of only two teams behind Arkansas in the conference standings, with the other being Missouri.

The game is set to be televised on the SEC Network.

Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits

  • For just the second time this year, Arkansas used the same starting lineup for a third straight game Saturday. The only other time it happened was the first three games of the season. It was a four-guard lineup with El Ellis, Davonte Davis, Khalif Battle and Tramon Mark, plus Chandler Lawson.
  • It wasn’t a great shooting day for Davonte Davis, as he went just 2 of 8 and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, but he still scored 8 points and led the team in both rebounds (9) and assists (6) in 34 minutes. Arkansas was plus-15 with him on the floor.
  • In the first Arkansas vs Missouri matchup this season, which they won 91-84 in Columbia, the Razorbacks scored 56 points in the paint. That dropped to just 26 on Saturday, as the Tigers made it a point to clog the lane and for Arkansas to make plays on the perimeter — which it did by going 10 of 25 from beyond the arc.
  • Former Arkansas basketball player Connor Vanover returned to Bud Walton Arena and received a mix of applause and boos when he checked in at the 4:19 mark of the first half. The Little Rock native finished with only 2 points and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes, but was Missouri’s only player with a positive plus/minus at plus-5.
  • Missouri was led by a 33-point effort by Sean East III. The senior guard was 9 of 14 from the floor and drew nine fouls, leading to him going 15 of 16 at the line. He also grabbed 3 rebounds and dished 2 assists, but also committed 4 turnovers.

Arkansas vs Missouri Highlights

YouTube video

Postgame Interviews

YouTube video
YouTube video

Arkansas vs Missouri Box Score


More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…

Khalif Battle talks more about his grandmother starting at 9:40 below:

YouTube video
Facebook Comments