Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Justin Smith turns in 'best game' of season at Missouri
Arkansas' Justin Smith drives to the basket Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, against Missouri's Mitchell Smith during the Razorbacks' 86-81 win in Columbia, Mo. (Zach Bland, Missouri Athletics via SEC Pool)
Justin Smith had a less-than-stellar start to Saturday’s game at No. 10 Missouri.
Smith, who did not play in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 2 when the Tigers won 81-68 in Bud Walton Arena, missed an uncontested point-blank look less than three minutes in. He then misfired on a three-pointer just before the first media timeout of the afternoon.
But by the end of Arkansas’ 86-81 victory in overtime, the graduate transfer from Indiana had turned in his top performance of the season, according to his head coach.
“I thought he was awesome. I thought he ran the floor hard,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “Obviously defensively, he’s so hard to take off the floor. His first shot was a layup that he kind of scuffed and then after that I thought offensively he was great. He was aggressive.
“That was his best game as a Razorback.”
Smith finished with a team-high 19 points on 6 of 10 shooting and also had 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in Arkansas' sixth consecutive SEC victory. He scored 17 points in the second half and overtime and was efficient doing so, hitting 6 of 8 shots in the final 25 minutes.
A 50% free throw shooter in SEC play entering the weekend, Smith knocked down 6 of 7 attempts at the line. The six made free throws matched a career high.
And according to KenPom data, he posted an offensive rating of 152 in the win. That is his highest mark since the Razorbacks’ season-opening win over Mississippi Valley State.
"I think Justin definitely balled out,” said Connor Vanover, who scored 12 points. “He was showing all that he's capable of doing from start to finish, especially in those last minutes he played really well. I'd say it was definitely one of his better games.
“But, just since he has come back from injury, he looked like the best that he could be."
Smith provided the Razorbacks’ offense — which scored at a 1.132 point-per-possession clip — a lift by knocking down a pair of rare jump shots.
He made his fourth three-pointer of the season and second in SEC play to give Arkansas a 65-62 lead with 5:50 left in the second half. Smith also connected on his first two-point jumper on the right side of the floor since Nov. 28 against North Texas.
He had missed his last nine such shots, according to shot chart data collected throughout the season.
The Razorbacks outscored Missouri by 10 points with Smith on the floor. He did not commit a turnover in 38 minutes. Smith has only one miscue in his last 107 minutes played and has recorded three-plus assists in three of the last four games.
Smith, Vanover and freshman forward Jaylin Williams combined for eight of the team's 18 assists.
On Thursday, Smith said his explosiveness had taken a hit since undergoing surgery on his right ankle last month, one day before Mizzou beat Arkansas in Fayetteville.
The 6-7 forward got back to his high-flying ways twice at Missouri, though, throwing down lobs from Desi Sills and Jalen Tate.
“He just came back with a vengeance this time,” said Moses Moody, who scored 16 points. “He had a different look in his eye and he was determined to get us this Quad 1 win. That’s what we did.”
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