Postgame Thoughts: Western Kentucky 86, Arkansas 79

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Saturday, December 7, 2019
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman reacts Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, to a Razorback turnover during the second half of play against Austin Peay in Bud Walton Arena.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman reacts Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, to a Razorback turnover during the second half of play against Austin Peay in Bud Walton Arena.

In the first five games of the season, Arkansas was fantastic defensively in not allowing the opposing team's best player to hurt them scoring the ball.

In that span, the most points any one player scored on the Razorbacks was 15. Against Rice, North Texas and Montana, that number was 13. Now, after Arkansas' 86-79 overtime loss at Western Kentucky, coach Eric Musselman's club has seen an opposing player pour in 20-plus points against it in four consecutive games.

• Georgia Tech: James Banks - 20 points, 14 rebounds

• Northern Kentucky: Dantez Walton - 30 points, 10 rebounds

• Austin Peay: Terry Taylor - 20 points, six rebounds

• Western Kentucky: Taveion Hollingsworth - 23 points, nine rebounds, six assists

Saturday, that player was Hollingsworth, whose six assists matched a career high and helped the Hilltoppers bounce back from a road loss at Wright State on Tuesday. The junior guard was especially strong in the second half and in overtime, when he scored 18 points on 6 of 9 from the floor.

He scored 16 of his 23 in the final 11 minutes, 34 seconds of the game. He was a real difference maker. Western Kentucky was plus-11 when he was on the floor and minus-4 when he sat.

Four other Hilltoppers players finished in double figures in scoring to aide Hollingsworth. Josh Anderson scored 15 points on an efficient 5 of 8 shooting, Jared Savage added 14, Camron Justice 12 and Charles Bassey 10. Bassey, a projected first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft, did not have the game, statistically, most envisioned heading in.

He also went down with a serious-looking injury to his leg in the second half and did not return. He exited with the 10 points and six rebounds, and Western Kentucky was actually minus-10 with him in the lineup. Arkansas did a fairly good job gameplanning for him and limiting his damage on the interior. Razorbacks forwards Adrio Bailey and Reggie Chaney battled and were physical with Bassey until he was helped off the floor by team personnel.

Given that Arkansas did limit the Hilltoppers' star to just 10 points, which is tied for his second-lowest output of the season, and held a lead with less than one minute to play in regulation, Musselman feels the Razorbacks should still be unbeaten and 2-0 on the road.

"From our end, all we can do is learn. We didn't (win), and you've got to learn from it in some way, shape or form," Musselman said. "Certainly we're not happy tonight. To me, it's a one-game season. We gad one game to worry about. Whatever happened in the other eight games, to me, is irrelevant."

One game after posting the highest turnover rate in a game in Musselman's college coaching career against Austin Peay, turnovers were again an issue in loss No. 1. The coach's goal is for the Razorbacks to commit nine or fewer miscues in each game, but Arkansas finished with 16, including eight in the first half and four in the five-minute overtime period.

Desi Sills, Jimmy Whitt, Mason Jones and Jalen Harris each turned the ball over once in overtime. Harris' was most egregious, but Jones played a role in the error as well as it appeared he was not paying attention as Harris looked to initiate the offense with the Razorbacks trailing 82-79 and the game clock under 25 seconds.

Isaiah Joe committed five turnovers for the second time this season (Rice). Arkansas' 19.3 percent turnover rate is its third-highest figure in a game this season.

"Turnovers have been a problem for us since we got together in the summer," Musselman said. "You can't play on the road in a building that's full like this and turn the ball over 16 times. I thought we were not tough with the ball in the first half, and certainly it carried on down the stretch."

The Razorbacks held a five-point lead with only 36 seconds remaining in regulation following a pair of free throws from Jones, but mental mistakes ruled the ensuing seconds for Arkansas. Whitt fouled Hollingsworth, who made two free throws after attacking the rim, then Joe was whistled for an offensive foul shortly after receiving Whitt's inbound pass, giving possession back to the Hilltoppers.

And to cap off a brutal stretch, players failed to carry out Musselman's plan out of the timeout with 31 seconds to play.

"Coming out of the timeout, the instructions were, 'No 3-balls under any circumstances. Run them off the 3,'" Musselman said postgame. "Savage hit a tough shot, although we didn't even make him put the ball on the floor."

Savage did bury a 3-pointer over Joe in front of the Western Kentucky bench to knot the game at 73-73 and force overtime. He finished the night 3 of 8 from distance. The Razorbacks' cold shooting (2 of 7) and mishandling of the basketball in the extra session took care of the rest for the Hilltoppers, who moved to 7-3 with the win.

Musselman got a terrific effort from Sills, who added a career-high 20 points on 7 of 11 from the floor and 3 of 7 from 3-point range. After missing 28 of 30 3-point attempts in November, Sills is suddenly finding his touch from deep. He has knocked down 5 of 12 looks in two games this month.

Sills was a plus-6 when on the floor Saturday. He was the lone Arkansas player who was a net positive when in the lineup. Jones was a team-worst minus-17 in 36 minutes and missed 8 of his 9 shots in the loss.

Whitt contributed 17 points, 12 in the first half, and grabbed 12 rebounds. Joe, who entered the game shooting 25.8 percent from 3 in the last three games, knocked down five triples on a season-high 14 attempts. His 18 points were his most in a game since dropping 33 on Texas Southern on Nov. 19.

I thought Harris gave Arkansas a nice lift off the bench, too, for the most part. He totaled nine points, a couple of nice assists and a steal that led to a layup for him on the other end. He is now 7 of 21 from deep this season after a 1-of-4 night.

Harris, who hit eight 3s in 2018-19, did not make his seventh triple last season until Jan. 26.

The Razorbacks will now return to Fayetteville and jump back into tough, training camp-type practices. Arkansas plays only three more games in December - Tulsa, Valparaiso, at Indiana - and Musselman's aim is to clean up the mistakes that have reared their heads over the last two weeks.

"We lost tonight," Musselman said, "so we've got to learn from it and get ready for Tulsa."

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