LSU guard Xavier Pinson is likely just fine with not having to face Arkansas again this season.
The transfer guard from Missouri did not play in the Tigers’ home game against the Razorbacks on Jan. 15, which Arkansas won 65-58. Based on the way he shot the ball the final two times he faced the Razorbacks, LSU might have been better off without him.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman and his team essentially made Pinson a non-factor in the teams’ SEC Tournament quarterfinals meeting Friday, and the Razorbacks cruised to a 79-67 victory in Tampa, Fla.
Arkansas earned a season sweep of the Tigers and moved on to face Texas A&M in the semifinals on Saturday.
For the second time in nine days, the Razorbacks were locked in against Pinson, who is far and away LSU’s top playmaker at the guard spot. On March 2, he finished with 12 points on 5-of-21 shooting in Bud Walton Arena.
Against Arkansas at the SEC Tournament, Pinson had 4 points on 1-of-6 shooting, 3 assists and 3 turnovers in 28 minutes. The four points were his second fewest against an SEC team this season, and third fewest in 27 total games.
Arkansas held him to 6-of-16 shooting inside the arc and 0 of 11 beyond the three-point line. On the Pinson-specific scouting report posterboard taped to a locker in the Razorbacks’ dressing room, “Capable from 3 - Struggling” made up the third line.
Limiting the effectiveness of a more-than-capable lead guard in the postseason is the latest feather in the cap for Arkansas' defense. The Razorbacks on Friday looked every bit the part of the SEC’s No. 1 defense in terms of efficiency, according to KenPom data.
JD Notae and Au’Diese Toney, whose status entering the tournament was uncertain due to a foot injury, were up for the challenge and forced Pinson into tough looks, and then no looks at all. LSU coach Will Wade opted to sit his guard for the final 7 minutes, 48 seconds.
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Pinson was 0 of 1 in the second half with 1 assist, and LSU was outscored by 13 points in his 12 minutes.
Arkansas appeared fine with freshman guard Brandon Murray and Darius Days leading the Tigers’ offense. It meant Pinson and Tari Eason, who was named the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year on Tuesday, were being held in check.
Eason scored 24 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in 18 minutes during the teams’ game in Fayetteville on March 2. He finished with 15 points on 4-of-10 shooting and 1 rebound on Friday. Seven of his points came in the final five minutes when the game was in hand for Arkansas.
Toney and Umude were solid defensively in forcing Eason to play through their chests.
Wade, Murray and Days were all in agreement following the game that the Razorbacks simply played harder. Toney set the tone for Arkansas early with his efforts on the defensive end, backboards and as the game’s first player to reach double figures in scoring.
He then punctuated the win with a dunk in the final seconds, which ESPN’s broadcast crew criticized. Toney, who had a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, said he was only playing until the clock expired.
“You can't let it bother you when they whip our ass three times. It is what it is,” Wade said. “He has really been a thorn in our side. At Arkansas (on March 2), he did the same thing.”
Notae scored 19 points and Chris Lykes 18 off the bench on 5-of-9 shooting and 7 of 8 at the free throw line. After scoring 15 points at Tennessee, Lykes has scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time since late December.
He pitched in 2 assists and 3 steals, as well, and Notae added 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals. The Razorbacks will be an even more challenging team to beat this postseason if both point guards perform as well as they did Friday.
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Lykes helped change the shape of the game in the closing minute of the first half, sinking four free throws — including two for a Wade technical foul — and knocking down a short jumper to beat the buzzer following a strip of Eason.
He matched a season high with 4 two-point field goals and knocked down a timely second-half three-pointer in response to an Eason score that cut Arkansas’ lead to nine.
Lykes scored nine straight points for the Razorbacks over a 1:35 stretch after halftime.
“He is a dynamic player that when we talked to him during the recruiting process and then we were behind closed doors, I felt that there was going to be five games this year where he just came in and dynamically changed the whole complexion,” Musselman said. “He was patient. He wasn't the first one off the bench. I don't think he was the second one off the bench.
“He came in and did a phenomenal job for us.”
Sophomore forward Jaylin Williams struggled with his shot, finishing 3 of 10 for 6 points, but he grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, had 2 assists, 4 blocks and 1 steal in 37 minutes. Umude and Trey Wade each scored seven points and combined for 12 rebounds.
The Razorbacks were bullied on the glass in the teams’ meeting in Fayetteville when LSU had 22 offensive rebounds. In Tampa, Arkansas recorded a 42-28 rebounding edge, including 14-6 on the offensive end.
Look at the toughness stats in the final box score, there’s a good chance the Razorbacks came out on top.
“They just played harder than us, honestly,” Murray said of Arkansas. “I don't think there's really a matchup (issue). I don't think there's anything that's hard for us. I think it's just a lot of the times we beat ourselves.
“I think it's they just played a lot harder than us that time, and they just got the best of us.”
The Razorbacks, since finding their identity, have made a lot of opponents have similar thoughts.