Despite the area being hammered by snow, sleet and ice, Arkansas basketball threw quite the block party for the Mitchell twins’ birthday Tuesday night.
The Razorbacks rejected 13 shots — most of which were by Makhel and Makhi Mitchell themselves — and never trailed in an 81-70 win over Texas A&M at Bud Walton Arena.
It was one shy of matching the UA record in an SEC game, which they set four years ago against Georgia, and easily the most in any game during the Eric Musselman era, topping the 11 Arkansas (15-7, 4-5 SEC) had against Alabama two years ago.
While Jalen Graham notched the first two and Ricky Council IV skied to get the final one, the 10 in between were all by the Mitchell twins, who were celebrating their 23rd birthday.
“As I left tonight heading to the arena, one thing my wife said was, ‘Make sure you start the Mitchell twins, because it’s their birthday,’” Musselman said. “I said, ‘Yeah, okay. Thanks, Danyelle.’ Both of them were good. I mean, that’s a lot of blocked shots.”
For much of the season, Makhi Mitchell has had the bigger role. He’s played more than twice as many minutes as his brother and started all but one game.
That flipped against the Aggies (15-7, 7-2), as Makhel Mitchell flirted with a triple-double and finished with 9 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and seven blocks, which tied the UA record for a regular-season SEC game and was one shy of his career high set at Rhode Island last season.
The 6-foot-10 big man proudly wore his green “Glass Cleaner” jacket — presented in the locker room after each game to the Razorbacks’ top rebounder — into the postgame interview room.
“Coach emphasizes going vertical and stuff,” Mitchell said of his performance. “Me and my brother actually put in our own drills that could help us defensively in a game, and it showed tonight with the seven blocks and also rebounding as well. It just started in practice.”
Even though he hasn’t played in six of Arkansas’ 22 games this season, with only one of those being because of an injury, Mitchell is second to only his brother in total blocked shots this season.
When factoring in the discrepancy in playing time, Mitchell is by far the top shot blocker on the team, averaging 5.2 blocks per 40 minutes. His brother, by comparison, is averaging just 2.9. The last Arkansas player with a better rate in a season was Moses Kingsley, who averaged 5.3 per 40 minutes as a freshman in 2013-14.
Musselman credits his “great anticipation” for that shot blocking ability, plus said he was also a factor in Texas A&M having zero dunks and being just 15 of 39 on layups, according to the UA stat broadcast, even if it doesn’t necessarily show up in his stat line.
“I think he gets off the floor way better maybe than someone his size and weight (usually does),” Musselman said. “He does get off the floor quickly. He anticipates. Long arms, he takes pride in blocking shots. I thought he had some great verticality, too, maybe where he wasn’t credited with a blocked shot, but he altered some shots.”
Making the performance that much more impressive is the fact that Mitchell is still only 10 days removed from suffering what he described as a “really bad” foot sprain in the win over Ole Miss.
He was originally believed to be out 1.5-2.5 weeks, but ended up missing only one game and returning seven days later, recording 4 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks 23 minutes against Baylor on Saturday.
“I’ve just been working, getting up (for) treatment early with the trainer and stuff, trying to get back on the court,” Mitchell said. “Then most of the time, I was just pushing through it because I know I’m tough, and I can fight through things like that, and that’s what I did tonight.”
Missing five games because of a coach’s decision and averaging only 10.7 minutes when he has gotten on the floor, all while watching his brother carve out a significant role on the team, Mitchell could have easily had a bad attitude about how the season has played out, but he told Chuck Barrett on the UA’s postgame radio show that he’s just trusted the process and Musselman.
That paid off in Tuesday’s game, which actually marked the third time he’s started alongside Makhi Mitchell this season. Although Musselman had said it was his wife’s suggestion, in the press conference the 58-year-old coach smirked and said he didn’t start them only because it was their birthday.
Instead, he revealed in the postgame radio show that it was a strategic move to counter Texas A&M big men Henry Coleman III and Julius Marble, who are physical rebounders and do a good job of pinning guys in the block to open up dribble drives for guards.
Regardless of the reasoning, it was obvious Makhel Mitchell appreciated playing with his brother, who had a solid game with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in 15 minutes.
“It’s amazing,” Mitchell said. “It’s always good to play with my brother. We get out there and share the court together, do our jobs and go by the game plan and execute.”
Council and Davis Stay Hot
The Mitchell twins might have thrown the block party, but Ricky Council IV and Davonte Davis brought the fireworks.
None were bigger than the fast-break reverse dunk by Council as Texas A&M was trying to rally for a come-from-behind victory. After Makhel Mitchell’s fifth block and 10th rebound, the ball ended up in Anthony Black’s hands and he pushed the ball forward to the Wichita State transfer streaking down the court.
With no one between him and the rim, Council not only finished with authority, but did so in style — earning the No. 1 play on SportsCenter in the process.
He added four more free throws after the dunk, but it was definitely the highlight of his 19-point outing. Even though he was just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc, Council was still 6 of 16 overall from the floor — a solid encore from his 25-point, 10-of-17 performance at Baylor.
Davis matched him in the scoring column with a season-high 19 points on a more efficient 7 of 13 shooting. It was his seventh straight game in double figures, a stretch in which he’s reached at least 16 points in every game.
“When you have two players like Ricky and Devo that can create and get their own shots, it opens things up,” Musselman said. “And certainly, the shot selection that Davonte’s had from 3 has been really good with his feet set. He’s shooting the ball at a really good clip of late from 3.”
Davis missed his first two 3-pointers Tuesday night, but then made four of his next six to finished 4 of 8 — a continuation of his recent hot shooting from beyond the arc. During his aforementioned seven-game stretch, he’s made 16 of 35 (45.7%) attempts from distance, which is a drastic improvement from the 17.9% he shot over the first 14 games of the season.
“It’s just me putting in the work,” Davis said. “I put it in every single day. Wake up, go to the gym. Before I go to sleep, go to the gym. I’m just going to continue to put in the work, and hopefully it continues to show like I’ve been seeing.”
In addition to his 45.7% shooting from beyond the arc, Davis is shooting 48.4% overall from the field and 75% from the charity stripe while averaging 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 steals in 37.7 minutes for Arkansas basketball over that span.
Black Guts it Out
Already dealing with a wrist injury, Anthony Black appeared to tweak his knee in Saturday’s loss at Baylor, but missed only a few minutes before returning to the game and playing 36 minutes.
While there may not have been anything structurally wrong, the freshman did suffer a “pretty significant contusion,” Musselman said. He earned a lot of praise for playing through it after the Baylor game and again after playing 38 minutes against Texas A&M.
“Just a real gutty performance by Anthony Black,” Musselman said. “As of yesterday we had no idea if he was going to be able to play. (He) couldn’t really go through much of shoot-around, was held out completely in yesterday’s practice, but he was in the training room as late as 10 o’clock last night trying to play through injury and he played 38 minutes basically on a knee that’s severely bruised.”
The only player to start every game this season, Black scored 11 points — with most of his damage coming at the free throw line (7 of 9 at the stripe) — while also grabbing 5 rebounds, dishing 7 assists and notching 2 steals. He did turn it over four times, but his seven assists were one shy of matching his season high set against Ole Miss.
That gives him 89 for the season, which is already tied with Ron Huery for the eighth-most among freshmen in Arkansas basketball history, according to HogStats. His 4.05 assists per game rank fourth among UA freshmen, behind only Kareem Reid (6.64), Courtney Fortson (5.93) and Lee Mayberry (4.22).
Jordan Walsh Off the Bench
One of the side effects of Anthony Black being healthy enough to play Tuesday night was Jordan Walsh coming off the bench for just the fourth time this season.
Eric Musselman said Walsh practiced with the starting group while Black received treatment on his knee and that he probably didn’t find out until pretty close to game time that he wasn’t in the starting five.
Despite not checking in until more than midway through the first half, Walsh played one of his better games. He finished with 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes.
Most importantly, Walsh was never really in foul trouble and played 91.4% of the available minutes from the point he first entered the game.
“I thought Jordan tonight was a real game-changer for us,” Musselman said. “His energy was phenomenal. He played most of the second half. He approached the game the right way. … I thought he mentally did a great job coming in ready to play.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
Winless in five attempts so far, the Arkansas basketball team will get yet another chance for a road victory Saturday afternoon at South Carolina. It should be the Razorbacks’ best shot yet.
The Gamecocks are tied for last place in the SEC after a 66-51 home loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday, which dropped them to 8-14 overall and 1-8 in conference play. They are by far the worst team in the league, according to KenPom (No. 255) and the NET (No. 273).
Tipoff inside Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Because of the aforementioned bad weather, the Texas A&M basketball team had a tough time getting to Fayetteville. The Aggies’ flight was diverted to Wichita, Kan., and they then took a bus to Tulsa on Monday. They drove the rest of the way in via bus Tuesday, rolling into town a little before 11 a.m. CT on the day of the game.
- For the first time since he became the Arkansas basketball coach, Eric Musselman welcomed his mom to Bud Walton Arena for a game.
- Much like last Tuesday’s game against LSU, which was impacted by snow, the crowd was much smaller than it otherwise would have been. Still, it made its presence felt and Musselman was much appreciative of the fans who were there. “It’s not what it normally is, but considering the circumstances, I don’t want to use the word ‘shocking,’ because nothing shocks me with our crowd anymore, but it was really really phenomenal,” Musselman said. “The students, I wish we could give them all a big hug and thank them individually. Because I know our players really appreciated the student support tonight for sure.”
- A major reason Texas A&M managed to hang around most of the game, even pulling within four with 4:10 remaining, was because it dominated the offensive boards. The Aggies grabbed a whopping 24 of 51 (47.1%) available offensive rebounds, which was above their season average of 36.3% (12th nationally, per KenPom).
- The Razorbacks scored 42 points on 57.7% shooting (15 of 26) in the first half. That was the most first-half points Texas A&M has allowed in an SEC game this year, surpassing the 34 scored by Vanderbilt. The Aggies had been holding conference foes to just 24.3 points per first half this season.
Arkansas vs Texas A&M Highlights
Arkansas vs Texas A&M Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Texas A&M Box Score
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