Musselman Experiences Embarrassing “First” + More from Vanderbilt Loss

Eric Musselman, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Vanderbilt
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

FAYETTEVILLE — Just when it looked like Arkansas basketball had finally turned the corner, it fell flat on its face in against Vanderbilt on Tuesday.

A furious comeback bid fell short and the Razorbacks suffered arguably their worst loss in Eric Musselman’s tenure, losing to the lowly Commodores 85-82 in front of a sparse crowd at Bud Walton Arena.

Vanderbilt (8-20, 3-12 SEC) was winless in 11 games away from Nashville, not to mention home losses to the likes of Presbyterian, San Francisco and Western Carolina, contributing to it being an SEC-worst No. 230 in the NET rankings.

That made Tuesday’s game a Quadrant 4 opportunity for Arkansas, which had previously been 23-0 in such games under Musselman. Prior to that, the lowest-ranked team in the NET to beat the Razorbacks was LSU in Baton Rouge last season. It was No. 153 — ahead of both UNC-Greensboro this year (No. 133) and Hofstra two years ago (No. 112).

Even in a season as disappointing as this one has been, it was an ugly and inexcusable loss for Arkansas (14-14, 5-10 SEC), especially when considering how well it had been playing of late with back-to-back wins over Texas A&M and Missouri.

While some optimistic fans had begun looking at the possibility of a miracle finish earning them an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the NIT was always the more realistic goal for Arkansas considering its miserable start to SEC play, but even that seems to be out of the picture now.

The Razorbacks’ only hope for postseason play likely rests clinching at automatic bid by winning the SEC Tournament, which will almost certainly begin on Wednesday, March 13 and require winning five games in five days. It seems like the players also recognize that fact.

“We’ve got to rally together and we still got the conference tournament,” Khalif Battle said. “We still got games ahead of us. We’ve just got to be ready to play for this next stretch.”

Not only has that never happened in the 10 years of the current format, but the furthest any of those bottom four teams has ever gotten was the semifinals.

Here are a few other takeaways from the Arkansas vs Vanderbilt game…

Wild Finish in Arkansas vs Vanderbilt

Arkansas trailed by as many as 16 with about six minutes left, but chipped away at that deficit and managed to make it a game down the stretch.

Trevon Brazile and El Ellis knocked down back-to-back 3s to pull the Razorbacks within three and then things got crazy in the final 30 seconds.

It was still a three-point margin when Brazile committed a foul well beyond the 3-point line late in the shot clock with 22.9 seconds left in the game. With a chance to ice the win, though, Tyrin Lawrence missed both free throw.

That should have given Arkansas the ball with plenty of time to run an actual play, but instead, Ven-Allen Lubin managed to grab the offensive rebound and stick it back in with a foul. He completed the three-point play to make it a six-point game.

“We just gotta come up with the rebound and we didn’t,” Musselman said. “Lubin kind of snuck in between JD and El. We just watched it, I don’t know if there was any contact once he got the ball. Because I watched it before I came in here. But it got called and turned into a 3-point play.”

Even then, it wasn’t completely over. Tramon Mark was fouled on the other end and made both of his free throws. Then, El Ellis came up with a steal on the ensuing in-bounds pass and Khalif Battle threw up a 3 that bounced around the rim before falling in.

That made it a one-point game and Arkansas had to commit another foul. This time, Ezra Manjon knocked down both free throws. With 3.5 seconds left, Mark got down the floor in a hurry and got a good look that would have sent the game to overtime, but it was slightly off line.

“Credit to them for getting the tough road win, but it really sucks because I feel like we were just one possession away,” Battle said. “As bad as (we were as) a whole, including myself, we were one possession away. That’s the part that’s the hardest. One more stop, one more shot, one more rebound, that’s the part that’s the hardest to cope with right now.”

Game Decided in the Middle

That final 23 seconds or so will be dissected by fans, but where Arkansas ultimately lost the game was actually much earlier in the game.

Despite starting the game 7 of 10 from the floor, helping them build a 10-point lead less than eight minutes into it, the Razorbacks went through a horrible shooting slump as a team.

They shot just 1 of 17 to end the first half and then missed their first two shots in the second half. That gave them two separate streaks of nine straight misses sandwiched around an El Ellis layup — a stretch that lasted about 15 minutes of game time.

By the time Ellis made a 3-pointer early in the second half, the Commodores had turned their 10-point deficit into a 10-point lead.

Khalif Battle’s Encore

It resulted in a loss, but Khalif Battle’s performance was certainly worthy of being mentioned.

After dropping 42 points on Missouri, the Temple transfer went off again Tuesday against Vanderbilt, finishing with 36 points on 9 of 17 shooting, including 4 of 10 from deep, plus 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

According to HogStats, that is by far the most any Arkansas player has scored in the game following a 40-point effort. The previous high was Martin Terry’s 29 against Memphis back in 1972.

On top of that, Battle added another 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. The last SEC player to reach those totals and score 30-plus was LSU’s Ben Simmons — the eventual No. 1 overall pick — in 2015.

Of course, he also turned it over six times, but he had no turnovers Saturday against the Missouri Tigers. Between the two games, Battle scored 78 points on a whopping 20 of 32 (62.5%) shooting overall and 50% (10 for 20) from deep. He’s also gone 28 of 31 from the charity stripe.

Defensive Breakdowns

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the loss for Arkansas was its effort on the defensive end of the floor.

Vanderbilt came into the game ranked 333rd nationally in scoring offense at 66.1 points per game and had never scored more than 78 points this season. It also came in averaging 94.1 points per 100 possessions in SEC play, which ranked dead last in the conference.

None of that mattered against the Razorbacks, though. The Commodores shot lights out all game, shooting 50% or better from the field in both halves, and put up 50 second-half points en route to scoring 85 in the game. Their 1.197 points per possession would equate to 119.7 points per 100 possession — 25 points better than their average from the first 14 SEC games.

During his pregame interview with Chuck Barrett on the UA radio broadcast, Eric Musselman said the key would be slowing down the Vanderbilt trio of Ezra Manjon, Tyrin Lawrence and Ven-Allen Lubin.

The Razorbacks didn’t slow down any of them, as they combined to score 62 of the Commodores’ 85 total points and shot a combined 22 of 38 (57.9%) from the field, plus went 16 of 22 from the free throw line.

“(That) doesn’t happen much with the way that we prep and tonight it did,” Musselman said. “So as I’ve said, I’m disappointed in our defense.”

Up Next for the Razorbacks

The Razorbacks are back on the road this weekend, heading to Lexington, Ky., for a rematch with No. 16 Kentucky on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. CT and the game will be televised by CBS.

Back on Jan. 27, Arkansas actually hung around and were within one with less than 3 minutes remaining, but ultimately lost 63-57. The Wildcats were ranked No. 6 at the time, but have since gone just 5-4. They did beat Mississippi State on a last-second shot Tuesday night, though, to improve to 20-8 overall and 10-5 in SEC play.

Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits

  • Arkansas basketball has now lost three straight games against Vanderbilt after winning the previous seven. It is the Razorbacks’ first three-game losing streak in the series, which they still lead 29-15.
  • Three technical fouls were assessed at the 13:23 mark of the first half. Two were on Arkansas — Davonte Davis and Khalif Battle — while the third was on Vanderbilt’s Van-Allen Lubin. It was the Razorbacks’ first technical foul since the LSU game on Feb. 3, in which Eric Musselman got one.
  • Although the official attendance is still listed as 19,200 because Arkansas sold out the building ahead of the season, Bud Walton Arena was well under half full for Tuesday’s game. The UA doesn’t announce an “actual attendance” number.
  • For just the third time in SEC play, El Ellis scored in double figures. He finished with 19 points on 7 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 6 from deep, plus added 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 turnovers. That matched a season in in scoring for the Louisville transfer, who also had 19 points in the UNC-Greensboro loss.
  • In his second game back from injury, Trevon Brazile played 17 minutes and managed to tie for the lead with 6 rebounds to go along with 7 points on 2 of 3 shooting. “I thought he did a good job on the boards,” Musselman said. “He led us in rebounding in just 16 minutes, so I thought his effort in trying to get boards was good. I thought he played well.”

Arkansas vs Vanderbilt Highlights

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Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Vanderbilt Box Score


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