Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Analyzing Arkansas’ loss to Baylor in the Elite Eight
Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) looks to the scoreboard during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Baylor in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis. Baylor won 81-72. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Arkansas was 40 minutes away from a dream Monday night when it took the floor against top seed Baylor in the South Region final in Indianapolis.
But the Bears prevented the Razorbacks from reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1995. Given the remarkable run Arkansas made over the last two months, there is great optimism that Eric Musselman and his Razorbacks will return.
Baylor led for 39 minutes, 35 seconds and defeated Arkansas 81-72 in the Elite Eight at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Bears took control early, jumping out 13-2 less than four minutes into the game and led by at least four the rest of the way.
They took an 18-point lead less than nine minutes in, but in true fashion for this group of Razorbacks, they fought back, pulling within four points twice. A cold stretch offensively, however, doomed Arkansas. It missed 12 consecutive shots and went more than eight minutes without a field goal in the second half.
By the time Justin Smith added a layup with 1:19 remaining, Baylor was up 10. Following the game, Musselman said the players gave everything they had. The Bears were simply the best his team had come up against all season.
“The effort when we got down, we could have hung our heads, but, I mean, we played really hard,” Musselman said. “I mean, we played extremely hard, but lacked some scoring at times. And defensively they hit some tough shots on us. And then the turnovers — just too much to overcome.
“We out-rebounded them. Usually we talk about rebounding being an effort stat, so we were worried about the glass and we played small ball and we just still out-rebounded them. Their guards were just too much off the bounce.”
Baylor’s top four guards — MaCio Teague, Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and Adam Flagler — each scored in double figures. Teague led all scorers with 22 points and Butler had 14. Teague’s back-to-back threes with under five minutes to play were backbreakers for the Razorbacks.
The Bears outscored Arkansas by 17 points in Mitchell’s 29 minutes. He sat the final 8:21 of the first half with foul trouble.
Baylor shot 48.4% and posted an offensive efficiency rating of 118.2. It was the highest mark against the Razorbacks all season, topping the road loss at Alabama on Jan. 16 (114.9).
Jalen Tate wasn’t sure what happened on Arkansas’ end in the game’s opening minutes when the Bears created a cushion that lasted. They made eight of their first 11 shots.
“I think they came out hot. They're a confident group,” he said. “They're an older group. So with games like that, especially against a younger group like us, and in terms of the fact that we just started three freshmen, I think they may have — I can't put my finger on it.
“I wouldn't say there was any one thing that would jump out. We're a team that usually gets down in the first half, and tonight wasn't any different.”
JD Notae and Davonte Davis led the Razorbacks with 14 points apiece, and Tate added 13. Moses Moody finished with 11 on another tough shooting night, and Smith had 10. Arkansas shot 48.1% from the floor, but turnovers were key.
Baylor poured in 21 points off those miscues, on par with its tournament average coming in.
Notae’s absence down the stretch will long be a great “what if” for Arkansas. He fouled out in only 15 minutes after hitting 5 of 6 shots and both of his three-point attempts. His season ended with 13:38 remaining on a questionable charge call.
He was the Razorbacks’ leading scorer at the time, and the only player in double figures.
“I’m not going to say we definitely would have definitely won the game, but I think we would have had a better shot at the end of the game with him on the court,” Tate said. “He's an excellent combo guard, scorer, facilitator. It's unfortunate this had to be his last game of the year.
“The refs kind of took it out of his hands a little bit with some of the 50-50 calls that didn't bounce his way.”
Moody struggled with his shooting touch again Monday. He finished 2 of 10 from the floor and 0 of 4 from deep. In the last two tournament games, he was 6 of 30, including 0 of 7 from three-point range. Musselman said Baylor keying on his star led to the off night.
Lineup-wise, a couple of things stood out: Arkansas was minus-10 in the 3 minutes, 14 seconds that Smith came off the floor. Arkansas outscored Baylor by one point in his 36-plus minutes in the lineup.
Jaylin Williams was a minus-19 in 15-plus minutes, and Ethan Henderson was minus-5.
For the Razorbacks, they finish a season unlike any other at 25-7 overall. It was the most wins for the program since the 2016-17 season.
Former Arkansas coaches Stan Heath, John Pelphrey and Mike Anderson won 12, 14 and 19 games in their second years in Fayetteville, respectively. It was the kind of season, Musselman said, that will be fully felt once there is a greater sense of normalcy.
“I think that this run can certainly help us next season,” he added. “Again, stinging from the loss, but all competitors hate to lose. I'm sure when we get out of this building and we fly back home we'll have time to reflect once we get back to Northwest Arkansas.
“We came into this game to try to win the game. But a phenomenal season and certainly a season in Year 2 that we can all build upon.”
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