FAYETTEVILLE — For much of the 2022-23 season, Makhi Mitchell served as the anchor in Arkansas’ frontcourt.
Meanwhile, his twin brother Makhel Mitchell largely sat and trusted that his time would come. His patience and work behind the scenes is now paying great dividends for the Razorbacks.
Makhel Mitchell’s productivity and emergence, giving Arkansas a two-headed presence on the interior, has coincided with the team reversing course in a positive way. His fingerprints have been all over multiple recent wins, including Tuesday’s at Kentucky.
He finished with 15 points on 7 of 9 from the floor, 4 rebounds and 5 blocks.
“Over the last couple of games, he’s been contributing a lot,” freshman guard Anthony Black said. “I think the biggest thing he did for us was protect the paint and lock down one of the best players in college basketball. He held (Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe) to a quiet night compared to what he usually does and what he did last year.
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“I think he did a good job accepting the challenge and playing really hard, and just being a dog and playing really hard for us at the 5 spot.”
Makhel Mitchell was stout defensively at Kentucky. Wildcats players finished 2 of 8 from the field when the 6-10 forward was the nearest Arkansas defender, and both scores were jump shots.
According to HogStats.com, his five blocks were the most by a Razorbacks player against Kentucky. He also became the first Arkansas player to record at least 15 points and 5 blocks in a game since Daniel Gafford in February 2018.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said it made sense for the big-bodied forward to match up with Tshiebwe. The Kentucky forward had 7 points on 3-of-6 shooting and 7 rebounds, and 2 of his misses came on back-to-back blocks by Makhel Mitchell.
“Really well-played (game),” junior guard Davonte Davis said. “We knew Khel was going to be there when it came to guarding Oscar. He wasn’t going to miss him. We know Khel is a good shot blocker.
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“He is also going to keep Oscar in front of him, and he did exactly that. I think he did really, really good on Oscar.”
Makhel Mitchell, who missed the Razorbacks' 60-40 home victory over LSU with a foot sprain, has done an admirable job protecting the paint of late.
He owns a block rate of 12.3% in the 4 games he has played in during Arkansas’ 5-game winning streak, per CBB Analytics, and is averaging 1.15 blocks per personal foul committed. That figure ranks in the 99th percentile in that timeframe.
In Makhel Mitchell’s last 5 games overall, he has given the Razorbacks 3.6 blocks per outing. And opponents have made just 41.4% of their two-point attempts in that span.
“He’s been really locked in on the scouting report,” Musselman said. “His defense, his physicality, his defensive rim-protection, it's really important against some of these teams we've played of late.
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“Makhel has done a great job defensively. Right now, the last few games, his shots blocked per minute is the through the roof.”
He will likely be relied on heavily Saturday against Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith, who is averaging 17.9 points on 57.8% shooting and 10.1 rebounds in the Bulldogs’ last 7 games.
Makhel Mitchell also has provided Arkansas with a bit of a scoring punch. He has averaged 7.4 points in the last 5 games on 61.5% from the field, and his 7 scores on Tuesday are a season high.
Makhel Mitchell is 33 of 44 on field goal attempts in the lane this season, per CBB Analytics, including 25 of 31 at the rim.
“(Kentucky) was by far his best finishing game,” Musselman said. “When you look at his numbers from the field, he had a fabulous rim run with a high-degree-of-difficulty pass to catch on the run. He was able to not only catch the ball but gather himself and finish. And he hit a mid-range shot.
“I thought he was phenomenal.”