Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Saturday sellouts continuing
Arkansas guard Mason Jones (15) pulls up to shoot over Kentucky defenders Nick Richards (4) and Ashton Hagans (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Fayetteville. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks opened SEC play with a hard-fought 69-59 victory over Texas A&M in front of 19,200 fans on Saturday, the largest crowd at Walton Arena since 19,483 gathered to see the Hogs down Austin Peay 99-62 on Dec. 3, 2016.
The first five Saturday home games in 2020 have already been deemed sellouts for the Razorbacks, with Kentucky (Jan. 18), TCU (Jan. 25), Mississippi State (Feb. 15) and Missouri (Feb. 22) to follow.
The excitement over the Razorbacks is based on the team's 12-1 start and gritty style of play under first-year coach Eric Musselman that has led to a 3-1 record away from Walton Arena.
Arkansas leads the SEC and the nation by a wide margin in three-point defense (22.3%). The second-best team in that category in Division I is Nicholls State (24.4%).
The Razorbacks also top the SEC with 9.6 steals per game and a plus-5.1 turnover margin. Both of those statistics rank 17th in the country.
Auburn (13-0) entered SEC play as the lone unbeaten team in the league and one of only two unbeatens (San Diego State) in Division I. Last year, Tennessee and Mississippi State were both 12-1 at this point in the schedule, one game in to league play.
The Tigers moved up to No. 5 in The Associated Press poll, their first time in the top five in 20 years, heading into its SEC home opener against Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Auburn has won 25 of its last 26 games, including 10 in a row over SEC opponents.
The Tigers overcame a dreadful 11-of 33 shooting performance in the first half, including 0 of 11 from three-point range, to subdue Mississippi State 80-68 in their SEC opener in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday.
Heading to 1,000
Kentucky can be the first team to reach 1,000 SEC wins by this weekend. The Wildcats lead the SEC with 998 all-time victories.
They play at Georgia tonight at 8 Central in the Bulldogs' conference opener at Stegeman Coliseum, then host Alabama at 11 a.m. Central on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Auburn guard J'Von McCormick and Florida guard Scottie Lewis were honored by the SEC office this week for their production last week.
McCormick, a 6-foot senior from New Orleans, was named SEC Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 28 points, to go along with 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in Auburn's victory at Mississippi State. McCormick drew a team-high seven fouls, went 8 of 11 from the free throw line and scored 15 points in the final 12:28 of the Tigers' 80-68 win.
Lewis, a 6-5, 185-pounder from Hazlet, N.J., was named SEC Freshman of the Week after posting 15 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in the Gators' 104-98 double overtime win over Alabama. Lewis posted the first double-double of his college career.
Florida Coach Mike White said he has had to take a more upbeat and mellow approach with his team, which is mostly comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
"I'm trying to be more positive and calmer with this team that's very unique of course with all of our youth," White said in describing how the Gators responded to a 21-point first half deficit against Alabama. The Gators went on a run to close their deficit to 14 points at halftime, then rallied for a 104-98 win in double overtime.
"We did talk about, 'Hey guys, we're fortunate. This could be really ugly right now. The score could be really ugly. We're down 14 right now,'" White said of his halftime talk.
"We're a team that isn't overly sure of themselves right now. It's the way we've played all season. I think when you have this many new pieces -- I could say it until I'm blue in the face -- it's freshmen and sophomores."
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman showed his support for Fortune 500 giant Wal-Mart, with corporate headquarters in Bentonville, by wearing a Wal-Mart T-shirt -- with a Razorbacks logo -- during his postgame remarks after a 69-59 win over Texas A&M on Saturday.
Earlier in the week, Texas A&M Coach Buzz Williams said he had done some research on Northwest Arkansas and the effects of Wal-Mart based on his desire to study and learn.
"I've been there a couple of times but never for basketball purposes," Williams said at his weekly news conference Thursday. "I was trying to learn about the Wal-Mart industry is the only time I've been there and the Tyson chicken industry."
"I have an insatiable curiosity for anything I can learn from, whether that's business or sports or authors."
Williams said he plans his offseasons around going places to learn new things.
"I thought it was interesting in that Fayetteville area there's more millionaires per square mile than any other town in America, and that didn't seem to fit what I thought would be right. So I just wanted to learn.
"Obviously, a lot of that came from Wal-Mart, so I was studying Mr. [Sam] Walton and how did it become the Wal-Mart that we know. How did Tyson chicken get there? Well it was because of Wal-Mart. ... I just went over there to learn and not be a basketball coach."
Kentucky leads the SEC with 80.1% free throw shooting, considerably better than the second-best mark in the league, held by LSU (75.7), followed by Arkansas (74.4).
Immanuel Quickley went 9 of 9 at the stripe in Saturday's, and the sophomore guard has converted 24 in a row at the line. Quickley, who ranks second in the nation with 95.8% accuracy on free throws, is on pace to break the school record of 93.5% set last year by freshman guard Tyler Hero.
Arkansas improved to 103-56 (64.8%) in its long-running series against Texas A&M with Saturday's home win.
The Razorbacks lead the series 8-5 since Texas A&M joined the SEC (2012-13). They're up 58-15 in home games, 38-37 in road games and 7-4 in neutral-site games against the Aggies.
Texas A&M joins Rice and TCU as 2019-20 opponents for the Razorbacks who Arkansas also faced in its inaugural season of 1923-24.
The Razorbacks improved to 1,700-956 (64.0%) all time with their win over the Aggies.
Sports on 01/07/2020
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