FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Now it’s on to the tournaments and Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is probably glad.
For a coach that thrives in postseason tournaments it may be merciful after an 88-79 loss to Kentucky on Saturday at Bud Walton Arena that wasn’t pretty.
It looked like it could be a lot worse for awhile.
“There was a lid on the rim,” he said later. “That’s what happened.”
That’s the short version.
The story was this team couldn’t make layups or hit consistently from the outside. There was hope at the start when Nick Smith Jr. made a deep corner three-pointer to start the game, but it didn’t take long to fade.
The Razorbacks simply couldn’t make a layup, free throw or many three-pointers. Since all of that was a key part of Musselman’s plan, it’s a problem.
“Our philosophy, especially with this roster, has been to try to draw free throws attempted and to try to score points in the paint,” Musselman said. “Obviously today 2-for-20 around the rim, you’re not going to win a lot of games.”
With a rowdy packed crowd that showed up looking for blood, they never really got it. The game was about as close as you will see to a fistfight, almost from the beginning.
It had the officials trying to get on top of things early and that pretty much continued throughout the game. Davonte Davis was the only player ejected and that came in the second half for a pair of technical fouls.
In the paint, Makhel and Makhi Mitchell along with Kamani Johnson were locked up in hand-to-hand battles with Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, Damion Collins and Chris Livingston.
But the Wildcats’ player that did the most damage was Antonio Reeves, who scored 37 points on 12-of-17 from the field and 11-of-11 at the free-throw line. He couldn’t miss, it seemed … and he didn’t miss many.
“He played as good as any player I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching here at Arkansas and I can’t remember anybody in the Mountain West that did that to one of our teams with that percentage,” Musselman said about his time at Nevada.
Reeves had him shaking his head.
“How many guys score 37 points on 17 shots?” he asked. “It doesn’t happen.”
It did Saturday. Combine that with the Hogs’ inability to make layups or free throws and they didn’t have a chance.
Smith had season bests in points (25), assists (6) and steals (4). Ricky Council IV had 16 points and 4 rebounds. Point guard Anthony Black scored 14 with 8 rebounds. Jordan Walsh was the only other Hogs’ player in double figures with 10 points (7 rebounds, 2 steals).
The biggest change in momentum came when Davis scored a three-pointer to cut the Wildcats’ lead to three with less than a minute gone in the second.
That was followed by seven seconds of mass confusion. Devo picked up two personals, along with two technical fouls and got thrown out.
“I’d have to go back and look at it,” Smith said later about that sequence of events. We just don’t…No team needs two technicals,” said Smith. “It hurts a lot. Any good player that goes out for a team, it’s gonna take a toll on your team.
“It what it is.”
• Arkansas’ starting lineup was Black, Smith, Davis and both of the Mitchell Twins for the first time this year.
• Arkansas won the tip.
• Smith scored the first points of the game, a 3-pointer at 19:14.
• Council was the first Razorback sub.
• Prior to the game, Arkansas honored its lone senior, Johnson. He had three rebounds, two points and a steal in 8:05 played.
• Arkansas only committed six turnovers. It was just the fourth time this season the Hogs have committed single-digit turnovers. Arkansas is 22-5 under Musselman when committing single-digit turnovers.
• On the flip side, Arkansas forced 15 turnovers. The Razorbacks are 12-3 this year when forcing at least 15 turnovers and Arkansas is 50-19 un the Muss era in such games.
• Four Razorbacks scored in double figures. Arkansas is 8-5 this year when four Razorbacks score in double figures but just 37-8 in the Muss era in such games.
• Council scored 16 points. He is just two points shy of 1,000 for his collegiate career. He has scored 513 this year and 485 in two years at Wichita State.
• Kentucky snapped a three-game losing skid to Kentucky, improves to 34-14 in the all-time series and 9-8 versus the Hogs in Fayetteville.
• Arkansas had eight dunks, tying for the second-highest total for the season.
Notes from Arkansas Communications is included in this story.