Tom Murphy is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Razorback basketball report: Sticking to role leads to big night for Mitchell
Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell (15) talks with an official during a game against Old Dominion on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell enjoyed his best scoring night as a Razorback with 15 points in Monday’s 86-77 win over Old Dominion at Walton Arena.
Mitchell shot 6 of 7 from the floor, made 3 of 5 free throws and collected 10 rebounds in a season-high 29 minutes for his 11th career double-double and his third as a Razorback.
“I can do that whenever I want,” Mitchell said when asked about his big night. “I just play my role.”
Arkansas guard Khalif Battle concurred.
“I mean Makhi is extremely talented,” Battle said. “There are so many guys on this team, it can be anybody’s night. You know what I’m saying? Not to discredit him at all. He’s a great player, great scorer, and he can do that any time he wants to. With a team, a lot of the time you’ve got to play a role.”
Mitchell went on a first half scoring binge to help the Razorbacks gain separation from a pesky Monarchs squad. The 6-10 senior scored eight of his team’s 18 points as the Razorbacks stretched a 7-5 lead into a 25-11 advantage.
Mitchell’s tip-in in traffic on a miss by Jalen Graham gave Arkansas its first double-digit lead at 21-11.
He had 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting in the first half and went 2 of 2 in the second half.
“I thought tonight was his best, if you just look at everything,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “It was his best job since he’s been here.”
Oddly, Mitchell’s plus-minus of -1 was the lowest among the 10 Razorbacks who saw action.
Arkansas turned to guard El Ellis down the stretch after Old Dominion’s hot three-point shooting cut the Hogs’ lead to 68-63 and the transfer from Louisville delivered.
Ellis made a pair of driving layups to stretch the edge back out to 72-63, and he also assisted on a second-chance layup for Makhi Mitchell at the 3:13 mark and contributed 2 of 4 free throw shooting in the final 2:47.
“I really wanted to come out and take good shots and my offense came to me,” Ellis said on the Razorback Sports Network. “I’m a natural-born scorer, but I’m really here to show I can facilitate a team and run a team and I feel I like I showed that.”
Old Dominion Coach Jeff Jones would agree.
“I really thought the key for them pulling away coming down the stretch was putting the ball in Ellis’ hands,” Jones said on the ODU radio broadcast. “He scored a couple of baskets, but he really just facilitated everything and we just didn’t do a good job and weren’t able to keep him out of the lane.”
Arkansas swingman Trevon Brazile had to come out early in the second half after taking a finger near his left eyeball from Old Dominion guard Jason Wade out on the perimeter.
Brazile had a bandage put on his left eyebrow and returned a few minutes later. The 6-10 sophomore finished with 11 points on 3 of 7 shooting, including 2 of 4 from three-point range.
Old Dominion had a wild night from three-point range. The Monarchs missed their first seven three-point shots through the 5:34 mark of the first half, but they heated up after that by making 9 of their next 11.
Old Dominion, which 30.8% three-point shooting team, canned 11 of 24 (45.8%) against the Razorbacks.
“We felt like if we attacked their defense because of the way they play that we could go inside-out,” Jones said.
“We don’t have any post game and we thought if we drive the ball and kick it out we might have opportunities to shoot more threes.That definitely was the case. I also think it was a little bit of you take it in there at your own risk. They have a lot of shot blockers.”
Trevon Brazile blocked the first two Old Dominion shots of the game, a three-point try by Jason Wade and a layup attempt by leading scorer Chaunce Jenkins.
The blocks continued an early defensive trend for the Razorbacks as a premier shot-blocking crew after they swatted 15 in Friday’s win over Gardner-Webb.
Arkansas entered the night ranked No. 2 in the NCAA with 9.5 blocks per game and totaled 6 against the Monarchs, with 4 by Brazile and 1 each for Chandler Lawson and Makhi Mitchell.
The Monarchs, playing without ace rebounder and center Dericko Williams, beat the Razorbacks 39-35 on the boards.
Old Dominion out-scored the Hogs 16-15 in second-chance points and had 12 rebounds to Arkansas’ 8.
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said three-point defense and lack of physicality were the Hogs’ biggest letdowns.
“I mean, we’re going to be playing against teams that are much bigger, much stronger, much more athletic,” Musselman said. “And we’re not rebounding with any physicality. … It’s just not happening other than [Makhi] Mitchell. He’s our one guy that’s rebounded with physicality.”
Trevon Brazile made the game’s top play with an assist from Davonte Davis.
After an air ball three-point shot from Vasean Allete, the Razorbacks got out on the break after a rebound by El Ellis. Davis and ODU guard Devin Ceaser collided just inside of the free throw line and Davis managed to deflect the ball over to Brazile, who leapt from the right block and threw down a tomahawk dunk to put a charge in the Walton Arena crowd.
Davis made an impressive driving reverse layup for a 27-16 Arkansas lead at the 5:29 mark of the first half.
El Ellis chunked an off-balance pass toward the rim that was corralled by Mekhi Mitchell and laid in for an alley-oop and a 34-24 Hogs’ lead with 2:38 left in the half.
The Razorbacks, a 64% free throw shooting team entering the game, shot just 18 of 29 (62.1%) from the free throw line.
Arkansas struggled at the stripe in the first half with 8 of 14 shooting, which included making both ends of only 1 of 6 two-shot opportunities.
In the second half, the Hogs had seven two-shot opportunities and made three of them.
The Monarchs made up ground with a 7-2 run in the final 1:24 of the first half, including a three-point shot at the buzzer by RJ Blakney from the right wing. Arkansas made just 2 of 4 free throws in that span, one each from Mekhi Mitchell and Trevon Brazile.
Old Dominion leading scorer Chaunce Jenkins got off to a rough start against pressure on-ball defense by the Arkansas guards.
Jenkins missed his first six shots, guarded largely by Davonte Davis, before hitting a driving layup on the break at the 6:01 mark of the first half.
Davis picked Jenkins’ pocket while he was dribbling at the top of the key, leading to a foul by Monarchs guard Vasean Allette, who ran into Davis while trying to impede a break. The change of possession wound up resulting in a three-point play by Arkansas forward Mekhi Mitchell.
Jenkins heated up after halftime however, netting 21 points on 8 of 19 shooting, including 3 of 6 from three-point range.
“He was a 10 out of 10 the first half guarding their star player,” Coach Eric Musselman said. “Couldn’t have guarded him any better. It was picture perfect. And then second half, we just go under two dribble-handoffs and he hits two threes? So why? I don’t know.”
• The Razorbacks remained at No. 14 in the first regular season Associated Press Top 25 poll.
• Freshman Layden Blocker was back in action, subbing in at the 12:38 mark of the first half after missing last Friday’s win over Gardner-Webb with an illness.
• The Razorbacks and Monarchs met for the first time, though ODU Coach Jeff Jones dropped to 4-3 against Arkansas as an assistant or head coach at Virginia.
• The Arkansas soccer team, which plays a second-round NCAA Tournament match at home against Pittsburgh on Friday, was recognized for its SEC regular-season title during the first half.
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