When Arkansas needed a basket down the stretch in the second half they couldn’t buy one and Baylor pulled away for an 81-72 win in the Elite Eight in Indianapolis.
The loss finished the Razorbacks’ season at 25-7, which is the best they’ve done in 26 years but people were expecting more.
“This team will never be forgotten,” senior transfer Jalen Tate said later.
Once the sting from a stinging loss to Baylor at a level of the NCAA Tournament fans probably weren’t expecting before the season if they’re being honest this will be viewed as a positive season.
“It’s raw right now,” Eric Musselman said later. “As a competitor you want to win every game. Right now I’m thinking about the 40 minutes that just happened. All of us are really proud of the season that we’ve had.
“We got scorching hot at the right time to end the season. We played with confidence. We were a basketball team that got better every single day.”
The Hogs simply ran into what Tate called “a very good team.”
“They got All-Americans,” Musselman said. “We had three freshmen in our starting lineup. Obviously we were the youngest team left in the Sweet 16. Those guys earned their starts based on how they played.
“It’s asking a lot for three freshmen in the Elite Eight game.”
Again, Arkansas got behind early, mostly due to turnovers. For most of the season they were able to come back from getting behind early, but not Monday night. Part of it was Baylor, but a bigger part was 15 turnovers.
The Bears converted those into 21 points while the Hogs turned nine Baylor turnovers into just six points.
“Just too much to overcome,” Musselman said of the turnovers.
Another big factor was JD Notae, who only played 15 minutes fouling out early in the second half with 14 points. Freshman Davonte Davis also had 14 while Moses Moody’s shooting woes continued with just 11 points, going 2-of-10 from the field.
“Honestly, some calls didn’t go his way,” Tate said. “We would have had a better shot with him out there on the court. It was unfortunate the refs took it out of his hands with some of the 50-50 calls that didn’t go his way.”
Musselman didn’t take it there. He’s been doing this at a high level for too long and throwing the officials under the bus simply isn’t his style.
“His dribble penetration, we were just going to see how long he could play out there,” he said. “Then he picked up a fifth way too early.”
Don’t write this off as a lack of effort. In the final stats, the Hogs were right there, shooting even with Baylor (48.1% to the Bears 48.4%), out-rebounding them, 34-29, and shooting more free throws (17-23 to 13-17).
“We did shoot 48 percent from the field against a really, really, good defensive team,” Musselman said. “So if someone told me we were going to be able to shoot 48% from the field, you know, we probably would have taken that. It was our defense is where we thought the major issues were.”
Missing Notae, nobody else picked up the scoring slack and a dry spell lasting over six minutes late when they had cut the Baylor lead to 4 with 7:34 left.
And didn’t get another point from the field until 1:19 left and only free throws kept it to an 8-point game after Justin Smith’s layup.
Then it was up to the Bears hitting their free throws and closing it out.