FAYETTEVILLE — As if getting revenge for a tough loss less than a month ago wasn’t enough, LSU’s Adam Miller supplied Arkansas basketball with some bulletin board material.
Two days after he and the Tigers pulled off an upset over the then-No. 9 Razorbacks on their home court, the redshirt sophomore taunted them with a tweet that — based on what Davonte Davis posted on Twitter in the days leading up to the rematch — gave Arkansas even more motivation.
The result was a thorough 60-40 beatdown of LSU in front of a small but raucous crowd at Bud Walton Arena on a snowy Tuesday night, improving the Razorbacks to 9-1 under head coach Eric Musselman when trying to avenge an earlier loss.
“We were extremely excited to play this game based on how the game went down in Baton Rouge,” Musselman said. “I thought we had a group that was really motivated the last 48 hours, and as we got closer and closer to tipoff, there was no external motivation needed. That locker room, I feel like, was extremely motivated to play this game.”
That “external motivation,” as Musselman called it, may not have been needed, but it certainly added another layer to the rematch and likely contributed to what was one of the better first halves Arkansas has played this season.
Fueled by a 23-3 run to close the half, which actually started with a 15-0 run, the Razorbacks led by as many as 25 points as they held LSU to a measly 14 points on 12% (3 of 25) shooting. It was the fewest first-half points they’ve allowed since 2015 and the third-fewest ever in an SEC game, according to HogStats.
“They were full of themselves after that win against us,” Anthony Black said on the UA’s postgame radio show. “I mean, it was a fluke win. We couldn’t get any buckets. We just played really bad and they beat us and they were celebrating and talking our line, so we knew we were going to come in and bust them. That’s kind of what that was.”
Miller, the sender of the infamous tweet, was once again a focal point of Arkansas’ game plan and had the misfortune of being Davis’ defensive assignment. Aside from a 2.5-minute stretch early in the second half in which he scored nine straight points for the Tigers, the 6-foot-3 guard was essentially taken out of the game.
Musselman specifically praised Davis for his ability to chase Miller around screens. Indeed, the 6’4″ junior created a couple of turnovers on those plays in the first half. Asked whether this game was a bit more personal, though, he downplayed the tweet but instead pointed to Miller slapping Black in the face late in the loss at LSU last month.
“It wasn’t personal for me,” Davis said. “Shoot, I’ll do whatever it takes to back up my teammates and that’s what I did.”
Needless to say, Davis and Black — the two Razorbacks who spoke to the media afterward — were pretty pleased with not only the win, but how well they shut down Miller.
“It was quiet today though,” Black said. “It was real quiet, the whole game.”
Before another reporter could ask another question, Davis was heard quietly uttering “trash” under his breath, presumably referring to Miller’s performance. The UA social media team also got in on the fun:
Devo Calls Timeout
It would be hard for Arkansas to play a better half of basketball than it did in the first half Tuesday night. Not only did it dominate on defense, it was also efficient on the other end of the floor.
The Razorbacks forced 10 turnovers, helping them out-score LSU 11-0 in fast-break points and 14-0 in points off turnovers. Even after missing their last five shots, they still shot a scorching 57.7% (15 of 26) from the field and were 4 of 7 (57.1%) from beyond the arc.
However, playing with a large lead has been a bit of a struggle for Arkansas, as seen in second-half collapses at Vanderbilt and Missouri. That issue reared its ugly head again against LSU. The Tigers needed just five minutes to score more than it did the entire first half, opening the second half on a 15-2 run that cut Arkansas’ lead to 11.
It was still an 11-point game about midway through the second thanks to a fast-break dunk by Trae Hannibal. Just a few seconds later, play stopped for an Arkansas timeout — only it wasn’t called by Musselman.
The head coach was confused at first, as he’s notorious for not using timeouts, but Davonte Davis quickly took ownership for calling it, something he’s done three or four times throughout his career.
“He was probably tired, mad and knows I’m not going to call one, so you add those together and he called it himself,” Musselman said with a smile. “We’ve got plenty. He probably could call two or three and we’d still had enough for a late-game (situation) if we needed it.”
Sure enough, it worked to perfection.
Arkansas outscored the Tigers 14-5 from that point on, pulling away for a 20-point victory. LSU made only 2 of its final 11 shots, while the Razorbacks made 6 of their next 8 after the timeout.
The last three of those buckets were a trio of alley oops — first by Jalen Graham and then two by Makhi Mitchell. They occurred in a span of 97 seconds, which is impressive considering Arkansas had only one alley oop dunk in its first seven SEC games.
“I think they were trying to press, too,” Davis said. “They were trying to get on an even longer run. I was like, ‘Nope, not doing it. Let’s call this timeout, get ourselves together.’ And then we come back out, try to get a bucket and the next media (timeout) is coming back up. And I think we did that because we got a stop on the other end and then the media, so I think we did a pretty good job.”
Calling the timeout was just one example of Davis providing veteran leadership on a team that desperately needed it after losing five of its first six SEC games.
“He was very, very vocal in timeouts tonight throughout the game, and we’ve kind of been waiting on someone to emerge a leader with their voice instead of it being the coaching staff,” Musselman said. “I think he’s kind of turned the corner on that, and tonight was by far the most vocal I’ve seen him in huddles.”
It also helps that Davis is in the midst of an incredible five-game stretch. Dating back to the Alabama loss on Jan. 11, he’s scored at least 16 points in every game, plus averaged 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists while playing shutdown defense on the opponents’ best players.
“He’s playing how we expect him to play and a little better,” Black said. “Knocking down shots, commanding the offense most of the time, being a leader. Just being Devo, playing with a lot of energy.”
Perhaps most impressive is just how efficient Davis has been on the offensive end. His 16 points against the Tigers matched his total from the game in Baton Rouge, but he did it on 10 fewer shots. He was 7 of 8 on Tuesday, compared to 7 of 18 on Dec. 28.
Two of those shots were from beyond the arc, making Davis 10 of 20 (50%) from 3-point range during this five-game stretch. That is a dramatic improvement from the 17.9% he shot over the first 14 games of the season.
Musselman, who got the Jacksonville native to flip from Oklahoma State to Arkansas and has coached him his entire college career, went so far as to say it’s “no doubt” his best stretch of basketball in three seasons with the Razorbacks.
“The biggest thing (is)…his shot selection has been unbelievable,” Musselman said. “He’s playing the point guard with Anthony. Tonight he’s telling us to slow it down, get a good shot and milk the shot clock. That’s maturity on his part, it’s him understanding the system, understanding what we’re looking for down the stretch.
“Defensively, again, it’s another level, and now offensively he’s doing the same exact thing. From an offensive standpoint, he’s doing a good job taking care of the basketball. It’s really cool to see growth in his game, both as a leader and offensively and defensively he keeps getting better. I don’t know how that’s possible, but he keeps doing it.”
Shoutout to the Fans
A significant winter storm that was expected to dump 5-10 inches of snow across Northwest Arkansas limited the crowd at Bud Walton Arena, but the fans who did show up created a rowdy atmosphere.
There were probably about 10,000 fans in the building, filling up most of the lower bowl, and a good chunk of them were students likely able to walk to the game.
Eric Musselman made it a point to grab a mic after the game and thank them for showing up before telling them to travel home safely. He then echoed those sentiments in the opening remarks of his postgame interview.
“First of all, incredible energy from the crowd,” Musselman said. “All the players, coaching staff, we want to thank our event management team and the marketing department for helping navigate tonight, because not easy to get people here and create that excitement. So want to thank them.”
The players were also appreciative of the atmosphere, which matched the motivation Arkansas already had for the game despite not being as large as usual.
“Not a lot of fan bases (are) doing it, coming to a basketball game in the snow,” Davis said. “So we appreciate all the fans for coming. They helped us out a lot. Next home game hopefully it’s even more.”
Makhel Mitchell Injury Update
Although he dressed out and even participated in some of the Razorbacks’ pregame warmups, Makhel Mitchell was not available to play in Tuesday’s game.
The big man is still “day-to-day,” Eric Musselman said following the win, after suffering a foot injury in the second half of Saturday’s win over Ole Miss.
“The suiting up, I just felt like we’ve got enough dudes in street clothes. ‘Can you just suit up so that when I look down there, I think I have another body?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, sure, Coach.’ ‘Cause he did not have his shoe tied, I promise you on that.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
For the last time until the postseason, Arkansas basketball will step out of SEC play for a non-conference matchup. It is once again time for the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge and this year the Razorbacks drew No. 17 Baylor on the road.
The Bears, who beat Arkansas in the 2021 Elite Eight in their last matchup en route to a national championship, have won five straight, including an impressive 75-69 win over No. 9 Kansas on Monday.
The former SWC foes will square off at 3 p.m. CT Saturday at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. ESPN will televise the game.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- In honor of it being the annual Coaches vs Cancer matchup, Arkansas wore pink uniforms — and the coaching staff wore pink polos — for the game.
- The 40 points by LSU were tied for the 10th-fewest Arkansas has allowed in the modern era (since 1970-71) and the second-fewest Arkansas has allowed in an SEC game. The only time the Razorbacks gave up fewer points in an SEC game was on Jan. 12, 2013, when they held Vanderbilt to just 33.
- As a team, the Razorbacks were 5 of 13 (38.5%) from beyond the arc against LSU. They are shooting 39.7% (27 of 68) from deep over their last four games after shooting just 28.4% over their first 16 games overall and 19.4% in their first four SEC games.
- Coming off his worst game in an Arkansas uniform, Ricky Council IV bounced back with a complete performance against the Tigers, finishing with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists. The seven assists matched his career high, which he set against Fordham earlier this year. “Ricky can score, and that’s what we need him to do, but teams scout us,” Davonte Davis said. “We all as Razorbacks have to figure out, when teams scout us, how to get a loophole around it and Ricky figured that out tonight.”
- His final stat line (6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block) may not jump off the page, but Jalen Graham played one of his better games. He was plus-20 in his 17 minutes, meaning Arkansas and LSU played to a stalemate during the 23 minutes he was on the bench. “He brought that energy, on both ends really — blocking shots, rebounding, dunking,” Anthony Black said. “He played great for us today. He brought a lot of energy. He brought a spark that we needed and have seen out of him a couple of times.”
- For the fifth straight game, Arkansas used a different starting lineup than the previous game. After coming off the bench for the first time against Ole Miss, Makhi Mitchell was back in the starting five, replacing Kamani Johnson. It’s a lineup the Razorbacks had used nine previous times, making it their most frequent starting combination.
Arkansas vs LSU Highlights
Arkansas vs LSU Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs LSU Box Score
More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…