Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
'Tonight, it happened to us': No. 14 Hogs latest to fall victim to upset
Arkansas guard Khalif Battle (0) walks off the floor Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, as the final horn sounds of the Razorbacks’ 78-72 loss to UNC-Greensboro in Bud Walton Arena.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas basketball program probably won’t be scheduling North Carolina-Greensboro again anytime soon.
For the second consecutive year the Spartans gave the Razorbacks all they wanted, and this time UNCG won.
The Spartans led by as many 15 points early in the second half and held on to beat No. 14 Arkansas 78-72 on Friday night at Walton Arena.
Arkansas rallied to beat UNCG 65-58 last season and closed with 19-9 run after the Spartans led for 29 minutes.
“Super satisfying to win this one,” UNCG Coach Mike Jones said. “We felt like we left something on the table last year. Our offense wasn’t as effective down the stretch as it needed to be on order to close that game out last year.
“We just relished the opportunity to come back and try to finish the deal. It’s a nice win for our program, but more importantly, it’s a win for our guys in terms of belief.”
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman had been 58-0 in nonconference home games over nine seasons as a college coach — including 36-0 at Walton Arena and 22-0 at Nevada — before Friday night’s loss.
The Razorbacks (3-1) became the sixth team ranked in The Associated Press poll to lose to an unranked team in the first two weeks of the season.
“I’ve talked about other people around the country that this has happened to,” Musselman said. “Tonight, it happened to us.
“It’s the first time it’s happened in [nine] years I’ve been a coach in a nonconference game like this. I thought [the Spartans] played great. They have a lot of veterans, and we didn’t play very well.”
UNCG senior guard Keyshaun Langley had 23 points, 5 assists and 4 seasons and senior forward Mikeal Brown-Jones scored 17 points.
“They’re one of the best 1-2 combos in the country as far as I’m concerned,” Jones said. “Regardless of who we play, we feel like we have a good matchup with those two guys.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. Our team believes in them. They helped us deliver a nice win.”
Arkansas pulled within 52-48 a layup by senior guard Davonte Davis with 9:53 left.
The Spartans then pushed their lead back to 57-48 when Donovan Atwell hit a three-pointer with a second left on the shot clock and after a missed three-point attempt by El Ellis, Joryam Saizonou scored on a drive.
A three-pointer by Saizonou and layup by Brown-Jones extended UNCG’s lead to 66-55 with 4:49 left.
Arkansas didn’t pull closer than five points the rest of the game.
“They punched us, and we responded,” Jones said. “Just had some resolve.”
Langley hit a three-pointer with 9 seconds left in the first half to give the Spartans a 38-24 lead.
The Razorbacks had 12 of their 13 turnovers in the first half, leading to a 16-4 advantage in points off turnovers for the Spartans.
“We talked at halftime about how they were going to come out with a lot pride, playing really hard, trying to get steals, trying to get run-outs,” Jones said. “They did a great job of attacking the paint.”
Arkansas hit 20 of 25 free throws, but shot 43.6% (24 of 55), including 4 of 23 on three-pointers after getting three in the final 2:45 — two from Ellis and one from Trevon Brazile.
“I don’t think we needed to attempt that many,” Musselman said of the three-pointers. “I mean, they didn’t have many shot blockers.”
UNCG shot 48.1% (26 of 54) and hit 9 of 24 three-pointers — including 5 of 8 by Langley — and finished 17 of 23 on free throws.
“We were getting good three-point looks, just a bad shooting night,” Mark said. “You can’t have a bad shooting night and a bad defensive night. If you have both of those, you’re not going to win the game.”
Mark led the Razorbacks with 21 points. Ellis, a senior guard, had 19 points. Senior guard Khalif Battle added 11 points, Davis had 10 and Brazile — a sophomore forward who suffered a season-ending knee injury against UNCG last year — had 9 points and 9 rebounds.
UNCG forward Tim Ceaser, a senior from Marion, had 7 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.
“We’d cut it to four, they’d go back up nine,” Mark said. “We’d cut it to five, they’d go back up 10.
“We couldn’t get it past a two-possession game. We played behind the whole game. Tough night for us.”
UNCG was picked to finish second in the Southern Conference behind Furman.
“When you lose a game like this, it puts a dent in you, quite frankly,” Musselman said. “This is a loss that’s detrimental because it’s a home game.
“I’m not going to shy away from that. I’m disappointed that we lost the game.”
Jones said UNCG, which returned several of its top players from last season’s 20-12 team, has had trouble scheduling Power 5 teams.
“A lot of these high majors have been afraid to schedule a mid-major team like us,” Jones said. “That’s why I take my hat off to Coach Musselman for scheduling us for a second year in a row.
“You’ve got to challenge your team if you want to be great, and he understands that. He’s not afraid to play good teams.”
Jones smiled when asked if he’ll try to play Arkansas next season.
“We’re going to try,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
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