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.
Razorback Report: 2nd half bites Arkansas again
Arkansas guard Nick Smith Jr. (3) grabs a rebound despite having his right arm hooked in the arm of Alabama guard Mark Sears during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
The University of Arkansas men’s basketball team had a halftime lead for the seventh consecutive road game on Saturday at No. 2 Alabama.
For the fifth time in that stretch, the Razorbacks were unable to hold on to the advantage, as the Crimson Tide rallied for an 86-83 win on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Razorbacks have not trailed at halftime in a road game since they were behind 36-25 at Auburn in a 72-59 loss on Jan. 7.
The Hogs’ wins in that stretch came in back-to-back games, at South Carolina on Feb. 4 and in an 88-73 decision at Kentucky on Feb. 7.
Arkansas’ 37-28 halftime lead over the Crimson Tide at Coleman Coliseum was its third nine-point lead at the break in the past seven road games. The Hogs also led Texas A&M (33-24) and South Carolina (36-27) by that margin.
Arkansas was able to close out only one of those games, a 65-63 win at South Carolina. In each case, the home team came roaring back to at least take the lead.
The Razorbacks also owned a 42-34 advantage at halftime at Vanderbilt in what turned into a 97-84 loss.
Arkansas was 12 of 13 at the free-throw line after Anthony Black made two to give the Razorbacks a 46-41 lead with 15:55 remaining.
Suddenly things went south from the line for Arkansas.
Makhel Mitchell missed two at the 14:08 mark, then Ricky Council followed with two misses at 13:36 as part of an ugly 1-of-9 stretch from the line as Alabama went on a game-defining 15-0 run.
Arkansas rebounded late to finish 20 of 29 (69%) on free throws, but that paled in comparison to Alabama’s 25 of 30 (83.3%).
“They took 30 free throws, we took 29, but the difference is they made five more free throws than us,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “As I’ve looked at the stat without looking at film, that’s the difference in the game.
“We’ve had a lot of close road games that could have gone either way, and we’re some free throws away.”
Alabama guard Jahvon Quinerly, who did not score in the Tide’s 15-point win at Arkansas on Jan. 11, had a much better game in front of the home folks.
Quinerly repeatedly drove past his man in the second half for a series of high-banking layups and wound up with 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 6 of 10 from the lane.
Alabama Coach Nate Oats attributed much of his team’s 58-46 scoring advantage in the second half to unleashing Quinerly.
“We were a little more aggressive,” he said. “I thought we got out in transition a little better. Quinerly adds a whole other dimension. He kind of got in the lane. We went to some different spacing on offense to try to give us more space to drive.”
Arkansas freshman Anthony Black has had a tough go of it against Alabama.
The 6-7 guard finished with 5 points on 2 of 12 from the floor with 1 assist and 4 turnovers in Walton Arena on Jan. 11, when the Razorbacks lost 84-69.
The struggles continued Saturday as he totaled 7 points on 2-of-7 shooting with 2 assists and 3 turnovers. Black, who fouled out in both games against the Crimson Tide, played a season-low 16 minutes.
Arkansas was outscored 33-26 when he was in the lineup.
“I thought they pressured him,” Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said. “And I thought there was a couple of fouls off the ball. But AB, he struggled tonight. The foul trouble certainly attributed to that in the first half.”
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman touted Alabama’s ability to reel off long scoring runs prior to the game and the Crimson Tide made it happen again with a 15-0 run early in the second half to take command.
“Alabama probably out of all the teams in the country, even teams like Houston and other great teams, they probably have the ability to put together spurts as well as any team in the country,” Musselman said. “And our game plan was to try to take away the three and try to limit fast-break points. And from a fast-break standpoint, we actually doubled them up [11-6].”
Alabama got to work on the glass in the second half, outrebounding Arkansas 26-15 after the teams were tied at 22-22 at the half.
The Crimson Tide were not able to take full advantage of the rebounding advantage however, as the second-chance scoring was tied at 15-15.
Devo dinged up
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman had to call a timeout with 1:13 left in the game in order to leave Davonte Davis in the game.
Davis had taken a knee to the midsection on a foul by Charles Bediako while converting a short runner to pull the Hogs within 78-72. Davis stayed down on the court for a minute trying to recover. Had Davis come out of the game, Alabama Coach Nate Oats could have designated the free-throw shooter to try to complete the three-point play.
The timeout allowed Davis to gather himself and he sank the free throw to make it 78-73.
The Razorbacks punctuated a 9-0 first half run with a transition dunk Arkansas fans have come to love but with a different combination of talent.
After Alabama’s Mark Sears lost the handle in the paint, the ball wound up in the hands of Nick Smith, who lofted a pin-point lob on the right side. Ricky Council caught the pass in stride and flushed it through for a 33-22 Arkansas lead at the 3:18 mark.
Alabama missed its first seven shots to fall behind 5-0. The early scoring drought included two blocked shots by Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell, who switched out on the right wing to tip away a three-point try by Brandon Miller, then swatted Jaden Bradley on an interior drive.
The Razorbacks wound up with 6 blocked shots, with Jalen Graham contributing 3, Makhi Mitchell 2 and Makhel Mitchell 1.
Quick, active hands by forward Jordan Walsh led to an early transition score for the Hogs. Walsh tapped the ball away from a dribbling Noah Clowney, retrieved the loose ball and drove in unopposed for a dunk and a 4-0 Arkansas lead at the 17:24 mark.
All tied up
On a timeout at the 8:09 mark in the first half, the game couldn’t have been any closer.
The score was 19-19 at that point, with both teams shooting 7 of 20 (35%), the rebounding battle tied at 14-14 and with both teams having 4 offensive boards.
It was one of three ties in the first half as the score was knotted at 15-15 and 17-17 prior to that.
• Arkansas used the same starting five of guards Anthony Black, Davonte Davis and Nick Smith, and forwards Makhi Mitchell and Jordan Walsh for the third straight game and the third time this season. Black is the lone Hog to start all 29 games.
• Alabama football coach Nick Saban was in attendance, taking pictures with fans during the halftime break and sitting with PGA ace Justin Thomas.
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