Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Music City misery: Hogs blow biggest halftime lead in 14 years
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman talks to players, Friday, March 10, 2023 during the second half of the 2023 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Jordan Walsh banked in a three-point basket to beat the halftime buzzer and give the University of Arkansas basketball team a 13-point lead over Texas A&M, the odds of the Razorbacks also beating the Aggies looked pretty good.
Yes, there were 20 more minutes to play in Friday night’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal game, but Arkansas had won 78 consecutive games in which it led by at least 13 points at halftime, according to data compiled by Hogstats.com.
That streak is over now.
Texas A&M rallied to beat Arkansas 67-61 at Bridgestone Arena to advance to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals and send the Razorbacks home to await word Sunday on who and where they’ll be playing to open the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas’ last loss when leading by 13 or more points at halftime, Hogstats.com reported, had been on Feb. 7, 2009, when Mississippi State came back to win 86-77 at home after the Razorbacks were ahead 51-36 going into the second half.
It was the sixth time this season the Razorbacks (20-13) couldn’t hold a lead in the second half away from home and lost — and the second time against Texas A&M.
The No. 18 Aggies (24-8) beat the Razorbacks 62-56 in College Station, Texas, after Arkansas led 33-24 at halftime and was ahead by as many as 12 points in the first half.
Arkansas survived a missed three-point shot at the buzzer to win 65-63 at South Carolina where the Gamecocks went ahead after trailing by 13 points.
When the Razorbacks beat Auburn 76-73 in their SEC Tournament opener on Thursday night, the Tigers overcame a 15-point deficit to take a lead before Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith hit what proved to be the game-winning shot with 20 seconds left.
“I mean, that’s kind of what we’ve been doing all year,” Razorbacks freshman guard Anthony Black said of blowing leads. “The last time we played [Texas A&M], we did the same thing. We’ve got to stop doing that.”
Other losses for Arkansas have been:
• 60-57 at LSU after leading 40-34 with 10:21 left.
• 97-84 at Vanderbilt after leading 50-40 lead with 17:37 left.
• 79-76 at Missouri when leading 67-57 with 5:07 left.
• 67-64 at Baylor when leading 35-27 with 19:33 left.
• 86-83 at Alabama when leading 37-28 at halftime.
“Historically, we’ve been really good in the second half,” Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said of his eight seasons as a college coach at Arkansas and Nevada. “This season we have not been very good in the second half of games.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened in a second half. … I mean, halftime speech has been the same for the last eight years. Adjustment has been the same.
“We’re just a young team. Winning and closing games, it’s not easy for teams. Tonight was an example of that again for us.”
Texas A&M has rallied from deficits of eight or more points in seven of its victories over SEC teams.
“I would say none of the guys on the team panicked,” Texas A&M junior forward Henry Coleman said of the Aggies’ mindset at halftime Friday night. “Our leaders stepped up and said the right things.
“Coach [Buzz Williams] came in and prepared us for the second half. We weren’t really playing Texas A&M basketball in the first half.
“I thought our ability to get downhill, control the free-throw line, control the glass was a huge key in the second half.”
A three-point play by junior forward Julius Marble put the Aggies ahead to stay, 53-51, with 7:42 to play.
Texas A&M stretched the lead to 61-54 with 2:55 left on two free throws by sophomore guard Wade Taylor.
The Razorbacks pulled within 65-61 on senior forward Makhi Mitchell’s steal and dunk with 27.6 seconds left and Texas A&M had another turnover a second later, but Smith missed a jumper.
Taylor hit two more free throws to make it 67-61 with 14.5 seconds left, then Black and junior guard Ricky Council missed three-point attempts for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas shot 30% (9 of 30) in the second half after shooting 54.2% (13 of 24) in the first half.
“Obviously we played a very good first half and a poor second half,” Musselman said. “I give Texas A&M credit for their second half play.”
Taylor led the Aggies with 18 points. Coleman had 16 points and 11 rebounds and senior guard Tyrece Radford had 11 points and 8 rebounds.
“It really wasn’t the offensive end, it was the defensive end,” Coleman said of what fueled Texas A&M’s comeback. “Our defense was locked in the second half, guys were playing in passing lanes, willing to take charges.”
Mitchell led Arkansas with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 3 steals.
Smith scored 15 points, but shot 6 of 20 from the field. He was 1 of 10 in the second half after being 5 of 10 in the first half.
“Obviously Nick [shooting] 1 for 10, that’s nine of our missed second-half shots,” Musselman said. “It wasn’t just Nick.
“I mean, across the board we really struggled to put the ball in the basket in the second half.”
The Aggies had six turnovers in the second after having nine in the first half.
“We were not very good in the first half,” Williams said. “That’s a credit to Arkansas.”
Williams said turning the ball over gave the Razorbacks too many open-floor scoring opportunities in the first half and didn’t allow the Aggies to play set defense.
“They’re going to shoot and score at a high percentage,” Williams said. “We were much more under control [in the second half] and being able to get stops.
“I think our guys understood that. I think there’s multiple, multiple examples of when things weren’t right in a game, they’ve had the ability to respond.”
The Aggies hit 18 of 24 free throws, including 16 of 22 in the second half. Arkansas hit 12 of 19 free throws.
“Obviously, it was a good feeling to make the shot, to be able to have that lead going into halftime,” Walsh said of his three-pointer to end the first half. “When we got to halftime, I felt like we stressed coming out, being aggressive defensively and rebounding the ball at a higher rate than we did in the first half.
“That was kind of our main focus going into it.
We just hoped that we could take advantage of that.”
But the Razorbacks couldn’t extend their lead in the second half.
“I think we took better shots in the first half, just easier shots,” said Black, who had 9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. “High-level shots.
“In the second half, they just started flying around on defense. We just got to throwing the ball away and missing shots.”
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