Makhi Mitchell Had Something to Add to Uproar Over Referees’ Botching of Big Call vs Alabama

Makhi Mitchell

Despite leading for more than 38 minutes and never trailing during regulation, Arkansas let the game slip away in the last minute and ended its regular season in heartbreaking fashion with a 92-88 loss to No. 16 Alabama in overtime.

After leading by as much as 15 in the first half, Arkansas saw its lead slowly trimmed down as the game went on. The Hogs struggled to stop the backcourt duo of Mark Sears and Latrell Wrightsell, who combined for 42 points on 15-28 shooting. It was Wrightsell’s clutch three pointer that tied the game at 74-74 with 21 seconds left.

The Tide then capitalized on their late-game momentum and caught fire in overtime, shooting 7-9 from the field en route to victory. But it was a controversial no-call just before Wrightsell’s game-tying bucket that drew the ire of Arkansas fans and stole much of the postgame discourse.

The Razorbacks held a three point lead with the ball in the last minute, and a driving Khalif Battle dished off to a wide-open Makhi Mitchell under the rim. Mitchell’s dunk attempt would have put the Hogs up five points and sealed the game for Arkansas, but a physical contest from Alabama big man Nick Pringle forced a miss.

There was a lot of contact on the play, with Mitchell pretty clearly getting clobbered on the way up (and possibly hit in the face, too), but the referees swallowed their whistles in the key moment. Razorback fans quickly took to social media to express their displeasure with the no-call on an afternoon where they felt the Tide got some home cooking from the officials.

But don’t take it from these fans. Take it from Mitchell himself, who immediately threw up his arms in dismay as the Tide raced away on a fast break. When asked after the game, Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman shared his frustration with not getting the call in that controversial sequence.

“That hasn’t happened for us all season long, quite frankly,” Musselman said. “I saw the body contact … But it’s not worth commenting on, it’s not worth sending things in [to the SEC office]. Alabama beat us, no excuses. But there was contact with Khi. What are they going to tell us? After reviewing it we’ll find out tomorrow that it was missed. But it doesn’t change the outcome of the game.”

Musselman is correct here. One foul call doesn’t change the outcome, and putting all the blame on that one sequence doesn’t change the fact that Arkansas let a double-digit lead slip away against a rival. If anything, more blame should have gone to a sequence of matador defense from the Razorbacks earlier in the second half.

Arkansas vs Alabama Sure Ended on Ugly Note

Still, it’s certainly a frustrating way for the game to be decided. Sure, it was just one foul call, but it happening in the last minute changes everything. If the whistle is blown there and Mitchell makes at least one free throw, the game is over – plain and simple.

However, excuses won’t change a loss to a win. Two things can be true at the same time: it was the wrong call, but Arkansas should not have let the game close enough to come down to something as trivial as officiating.

While a win in Tuscaloosa would have been an excellent momentum builder heading into the SEC Tournament, Arkansas will still be a participant in “Wednesday Night Sadness” – reserved for the conference’s bottom four teams – whether they won or lost on Saturday.

The loss dropped Arkansas to a 15-16 overall record, and set in stone the program’s first sub-.500 regular season since 2008-09 under head coach John Pelphrey. The Razorbacks’ subpar 6-12 conference mark is also their worst since Pelphrey’s woeful campaign 15 years ago. 

Barring a miraculous five wins in five days in the SEC Tournament, Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament hopes are done and dusted. Playing so well for the entire game and then bottling it at the end is a fitting way for this team to end its regular season after a year of flashing but failing to realize their potential. 

After entering the season ranked in the top 25 and even being picked as a potential national champion by some analysts, the Razorbacks finish the year listed as one of the nation’s most drastic disappointments. Not long after their run in Nashville ends, Musselman will surely be hard at work in the transfer portal to ensure that this experience is not repeated.

As forcefully as that would-be dunk by Makhi Mitchell, he’ll want to flush this campaign from the collective memory. 


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