Georgia coach credits Arkansas basketball for 'holding on' in crunch time

Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell (15) high-fives a teamate, Saturday, February 10, 2024 during the second half of a basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (Charlie Kaijo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas men’s basketball gave Georgia plenty of chances to complete a comeback Saturday, but the Razorbacks were able to escape with a 78-75 win at Bud Walton Arena. 

Arkansas led by as many as 12 early in the second half. But Georgia managed to chip away at the lead, tying the game or taking a narrow lead several times in the final minutes. 

Part of what keyed Georgia’s comeback was its switch to a 1-3-1 zone on defense. Bulldogs coach Mike White said it wasn’t something he’s used often this year, but that with his team struggling to defend against Arkansas, he decided to bring it out with around 13 minutes left in the game.

“We were optimistic that it could change the outcome of the game,” White said. “I didn't anticipate having to zone with this team early in the season. Our defensive numbers were really good, and the SEC has exposed us a little bit.”

Arkansas made six of its first eight field goals in the second half before Georgia made the defensive switch. After that, the Razorbacks started making more mistakes. 

They missed free throws, including four straight with under 8 minutes to play. They turned the ball over more, including stepping out of bounds several times. At one point from around the 9-minute mark to the 8-minute mark, Arkansas had turnovers on three straight possessions.

The 1-3-1 was helping throw Arkansas off, and the Bulldogs started hitting enough shots to take advantage.

But the Razorbacks never quite let Georgia run away with the game.

Arkansas found ways to beat the zone, going 6 of 8 from the floor in the final 7:05. They started hitting free throws, too, making 10 of 12 in the final seven minutes. 

“I thought [the zone] slowed the Hogs a little bit,” White said. “But I thought down the stretch they made a couple of really big plays against it.”

White cited one of those big plays in particular as an example of what he said was Arkansas doing “what it needed to do” down the stretch of the game.

With the score at 61-61 with about five minutes to play and Georgia in its zone defense, Arkansas guard El Ellis cut across the floor from the right side and made a leaping blind pass from around the free-throw line, through two Georgia defenders and to forward Makhi Mitchell under the basket. Mitchell finished at the rim to give Arkansas a two-point advantage. Arkansas didn’t trail again from that point.

“[Georgia center Russel Tchewa] got a fingertip on it, and if he got a little bit more than a fingertip on it, it could have changed the outcome of the game,” White said. “It was a great pass. Great finish. Credit Arkansas for holding on.”