FAYETTEVILLE — It turns out the Texas A&M game was more on an anomaly than a turning point for Arkansas basketball.
Rather than building on the win, the Razorbacks turned in another clunker and lost to South Carolina 77-64 inside Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
The result drops Arkansas to 10-8 overall and 1-4 in SEC play, possibly killing any hope of it making a run and earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve now had two home games where we’re not exhibiting the energy that we need to,” Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman said. “So obviously toughness, rebounding, offensively sharing the ball — there’s a whole bunch of stuff.
“We played against a good team that played with more energy and more connective-ness and more toughness than we we played with.”
The other home loss Musselman was referring to was of course the 32-point beatdown against Auburn, which was the most-lopsided loss in Bud Walton Arena history. That was also the start of a historic three-game stretch in which the Razorbacks were outscored by a combined 64 points, their worst three-game margin in school history.
There was some hope that Arkansas might be able to turn things around after beating Texas A&M earlier in the week, and that the win might help it regain the “swagger” it had in wins over Purdue and Duke, but that was nowhere close to what unfolded Saturday.
“Definitely didn’t have any swagger today,” Jeremiah Davenport said. “Just a lack of effort all the way around. That’s pretty much all I can say. Just a lack of effort today.”
With Saturday’s result, all four of Arkansas’ SEC losses have been by double-digits, which matches last year’s total for its most such games under Musselman — and there’s still 13 conference games remaining.
That doesn’t even fully illustrate just how uncompetitive the Razorbacks have been in SEC play. In their four losses, they’ve trailed by at least 10 for more than half — 53.0%, to be exact — of the the total minutes of action.
Even the one win wasn’t a complete 40-minute effort, as Arkansas squandered a 20-point lead and needed the last-second heroics of Tramon Mark to avoid a monumental collapse against Texas A&M. Take out the first half of that game and the Razorbacks have been outscored by 90 in their other nine halves — or an average of 20 points per game.
“(I’m) used to having really competitive groups that are super connected,” Musselman said. “So we’ve got to try to help this group as much as we can moving forward.”
Kicking the Hogs While They’re Down
As happy as South Carolina basketball fans likely were with Saturday’s result, no one may have enjoyed it more than CBS Sports analyst Matt Norlander.
The longtime national college basketball writer caught quite a bit of flack from Arkansas basketball fans when he slotted the Razorbacks at No. 47 in his preseason ranking.
“Arkansas fans, you don’t need to find me because you’ve already found me,” Norlander wrote back in October. “The Hogs are too low! Hey, I am not prone to a mistake here or there, but let’s see how a team with, theoretically, less talent does after finishing ninth in the SEC last season.”
Most preseason prognosticators had Arkansas well within the top 25, so Norlander’s prediction prompted backlash from fans — which he gladly retweeted during Saturday’s blowout loss to the Gamecocks. After sharing eight such messages, he sent out a subtle jab:
Of course, Norlander can’t take too much of a victory lap because he was still pretty wrong about Arkansas. Through 18 games, the Razorbacks don’t belong in the top 100, much less the top 50. After Saturday’s disaster, they fell to No. 101 on KenPom and dropped 11 spots to No. 18 in the NET.
KenPom’s projections for the rest of the regular season have Arkansas going 15-16 overall and 6-12 in the SEC, which would put it on the outside looking in for even the NIT.
Mark’s Up-and-Down Performance
Fresh off a 35-point effort capped by a buzzer-beater, Tramon Mark got off to a cold start against South Carolina.
The Razorbacks’ leading scorer attempted only three shots in the game’s first 16 minutes and started just 1 of 1 of 6 from the floor, but Eric Musselman credited that to some excellent defense by South Carolina’s Ta’Lon Cooper.
“I thought he probably defended, individually, as well as anybody that we’ve faced,” Musselman said. “Super solid, really smart, high basketball IQ. I think he’s one of the better guards in our league and probably not nearly talked enough about.”
It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the second half that Mark finally heated up.
He actually knocked down back-to-back 3s to briefly breathe some life into the Razorbacks, pulling them within seven, but after a Lamont Paris timeout, South Carolina responded with a 13-1 run to put the game away.
Mark stayed hot, though, and ended up making five of his last seven shots while also getting to the free throw line and going 4 of 4. That helped him score 18 points, making him the only Arkansas player in double figures.
“Just trying to run some more pick-and-rolls with him in the middle of the floor,” Musselman said. “Try to put their 5 man involved, where he could beat somebody off the bounce or get to his mid-range.”
Through five SEC games, Mark is averaging 19.8 points and has accounted for 30.3% of the Razorbacks’ scoring.
Another No-Show from Brazile
Trevon Brazile came into the season, and is still viewed, as a potential first-round pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. However, he has rarely played like it.
That was once again the case against South Carolina. Despite playing 25 minutes, he scored only 3 points on 1 of 3 shooting. The big man did grab six rebounds, plus added a steal and a block, but posted a team-worst minus-16. That means Arkansas actually outscored the Gamecocks by 3 points in the 15 minutes he was on the bench.
The only time Brazile has scored in double figures in conference play was in the blowout loss to Auburn, in which he had 11 points. Even including that, he’s now averaging just 7.6 points in 30.2 minutes.
Brazile’s 3-point shooting has also fallen off a cliff. After shooting 42.9% (15 of 35) from deep in non-conference play, he’s just 3 of 16 (18.8%) from beyond the arc against SEC foes.
“I mean, you got to run the floor,” Musselman said when asked about how to get Brazile back on track. “Again, getting open is a problem. Not pointing any one guy out but you got to get open, you got to curl, you got to slash from the weak side. There’s a whole bunch of stuff and then we got to see guys when that happens.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks are back on the road next week, heading to No. 22 Ole Miss for what will be another Eric Musselman-Chris Beard showdown on Tuesday.
After going 13-0 in non-conference play, the Rebels have won just two of their first five SEC games and will likely drop out of the AP Poll after losing to LSU and Auburn this past week. The latter of those was a 23-point blowout.
Tipoff between Arkansas and Ole Miss is scheduled for 8 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPNU.
The next time Arkansas is back at Bud Walton Arena is next Saturday for what is always one of the most anticipated games of the year, as No. 8 Kentucky (14-3, 4-1 SEC) is in town for a 5 p.m. CT tip on ESPN.
It will also be significant because, for the first time in school history, College GameDay will host its weekly show in Fayetteville.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- For the first time since beating Duke (Nov. 29) and Furman (Dec. 4), Arkansas basketball used the same starting lineup as the previous game. El Ellis and Chandler Lawson remained in the starting group with mainstays Davonte Davis, Tramon Mark and Trevon Brazile.
- Needless to say, that starting lineup didn’t work as well this time around. It got so bad at one point in the first half that Eric Musselman, who rarely uses timeouts, called two in a 29-second span. He also played 12 different Razorbacks in the first half alone. “That was a pretty simple message,” Musselman said. “The team’s got to play harder, tougher. We all see it and ultimately it always falls on the coaches, and so we have to do our part as well.”
- After not playing at all against Texas A&M because of a coach’s decision, Khalif Battle did get on the court Saturday. However, he played just five minutes and had 3 points on 1 of 3 shooting.
- Freshman Layden Blocker didn’t get into the Texas A&M game until the final minute despite playing so well against Florida, but did get solid run in each half against South Carolina. He was scoreless in 17 minutes, but did notch one offensive rebound, one assist and one steal while also drawing one foul.
- The Razorbacks shot under 40% in each half, going 11 of 31 (35.5%) before halftime and 12 of 31 (38.7%) after halftime. They are now shooting 37.0% through five SEC games.
- B.J. Mack led the charge for South Carolina, scoring a team-high 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting. That included going 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, where he had gone just 3 of 18 to start conference play. He also finished one rebound shy of a double-double with 9 boards to go along with 3 assists.
Arkansas vs South Carolina Highlights
Arkansas vs South Carolina Box Score
More coverage of Arkansas basketball and Arkansas vs South Carolina from BoAS…