Arkansas off to worst SEC start in 13 years after loss to Texas A&M

If there’s a basketball version of skid row, that’s where the Arkansas Razorbacks find themselves after a heartbreaking 86-81 loss at Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station, Texas, as the Hogs lost for the 5th time in their last 6 games while getting off to their worst SEC start in 13 years.

The last time Arkansas (10-5, 0-3, NCAA NET No. 92 entering Saturday’s game) was winless through the first three games of league play was in 2008-09 during then-head coach John Pelphrey’s second season, which ended with the program’s worst final league mark ever at 2-14.

The Razorbacks fell to 2-4 away from home on the season, including 0-2 in true road games. Meanwhile, Texas A&M (13-2, 2-0 SEC, NCAA NET No. 59 entering Saturday’s game) has won 6 consecutive games and is a perfect 9-0 at home.

A&M flipped an 11-point deficit into a two-point lead at the break, and despite falling behind by a point early in the second half the Aggies responded quickly with a 16-0 run to build a 15-point lead, 56-41, that would eventually grow to their biggest cushion of the game — a 17-point advantage, 65-48 — at the midway point of the final 20 minutes.

The Razorbacks fought their way back valiantly in the late stages and got as close as a one-point deficit, 79-78, with 1:08 to play on a jumper by senior guard JD Notae.

But on the ensuing possession Aggies senior guard Quenton Jackson drained a three-pointer with 0:34 showing on the game clock to extend A&M to an 82-78 lead. From there, the Aggies made 4-of-4 free throws to close out the win.

Arkansas is now 2-4 against teams ranked in the NCAA NET Top 100 (wins over Cincinnati and Kansas State, and losses against TA&M, Vandy, Mississippi State, and Oklahoma). Arkansas is 0-3 in Quad-1 games (includes the loss at TA&M), 2-1 in Q2 games, 2-1 in Q3 games, and 6-0 in Q4 games.

Head Hog Eric Musselman dropped to 55-24 overall leading Arkansas, which includes a 22-19 mark against SEC teams. His head-to-head record against A&M and Aggies head coach Buzz Williams slipped to 2-2.

Notae scored a game-high 33 points (11-of-23 field goals, including 5-of-8 from 3, and 4-of-7 free throws), serving as his top scoring mark as a Hog and his second 30-points-or-more game this season. But Notae also had a team-high 5 turnovers as collectively the Hogs lost the turnover battle (18-13) while also finishing minus-12 in points-off-turnovers (28-16) and minus-10 in fastbreak points (15-5).

In addition to winning the turnover and transition battles, the Aggies solved the Hogs’ man-to-man and zone defenses to shoot the ball extremely well in both halves, finishing 31-of-55 from the field (56.4%) which included a solid 8-of-19 effort from 3 (42.1%) by the SEC’s top three-point shooting team coming into the game. A&M struggled at the free throw line, making only 16-of-30 (53.3%), although its four consecutive makes in the closing seconds of the game proved to be timely execution at the foul line.

Conversely, Arkansas shot 27-of-66 from the field (40.9%), including 6-of-19 from 3 (31.6%). The Razorbacks did make 21-of-29 at the free throw line (72.4%), most of which was accomplished in the second half when they made 17-of-21 (81.0%). The Hogs dominated the glass (46-32), a plus-14 margin that was won on the offensive boards (20-6) leading to a plus-11 advantage in second-chance-points (20-9). Despite being so good in the blue-collar rebounding department, Arkansas finished minus-2 in points-in-the-paint (34-32).

A&M also won the bench scoring battle (34-21).

Sophomore forward Jaylin Williams recorded his first double-double as a Hog — 10 points (5-of-8 field goals), a game-high 11 rebounds, 3 drawn charges, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers. Sophomore guard Devo Davis finished with 11 points — he struggled shooting from the field, going 2-of-10 from the field (including 0-of-4 from 3) — but he made 9-of-10 free throws and dished out a game-high 7 assists to go with 7 rebounds, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers.

Senior combo forward Stanley Umude had 10 points (4-of-8 field goals, including 1-of-3 from 3, and 1-of-2 free throws), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block before fouling out at the 13:45 mark of the second half. Senior combo forward Au’Diese Toney had 9 points (4-of-11 field goals and 1-of-2 free throws) and 6 rebounds off the bench, and junior forward Kamani Johnson gave a spirited effort during the Hogs’ late comeback as he finished with 7 points (1-of-1 field goal and 5-of-6 free throws), 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block in 18 minutes off the bench.

Sophomore wing Jaxson Robinson made his third consecutive start playing against his previous team but missed his only two shot attempts while grabbing a rebound and blocking a shot in 8 minutes.

A&M was led by Jackson’s 16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Four more Aggies scored in double-figures — Duke transfer Henry Coleman III (14 points on 5-of-6 field goal shooting and 4-of-6 free throws to go with 9 rebounds); guard Andre Gordon (13 points on 5-of-5 field goal shooting, including 2-of-2 from 3, to go with 4 assists and 2 blocks); Virginia Tech transfer Tyrece Radford (12 points on 5-of-7 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3, to go with 5 rebounds and 2 assists); and freshman guard Wade Taylor IV (11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, 1 block).

Aggies senior forward Ethan Henderson, the Little Rock Parkview product who played his first three seasons at Arkansas before transferring in the offseason, started and had 4 points (2-of-4 field goals), 2 rebounds, and 1 block in 17 minutes.

Next up for Arkansas is an SEC home game against Missouri at 8 p.m. CT on Tuesday (SEC Network) at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Musselman sent out a starting five of Notae, Williams, Umude, Robinson, and Toney.

Notae and Umude came out hot shooting the ball, scoring all the points as Arkansas outscored A&M 20-9 in the first 6:40 of the game. The two seniors hit shots at all three levels while at the both ends of the floor the Hogs were controlling the glass and preventing A&M’s league-best three-point shooting from getting untracked.

But the Hogs began to slip into some bad habits that were problematic in recent losses. Specifically, Arkansas began suffering unforced turnovers while taking low-percentage shots, and the Aggies made them pay by converting the live-ball giveaways into points while also warming up from distance.

Trailing 24-14, A&M outscored Arkansas 23-11 to close the first half for a 37-35 Aggies lead at the break.

Even though the Hogs won the first-half rebounding battle (23-17, including 7-1 on the offensive glass), it only translated to a 5-2 edge in second-chance-points. The Aggies owned the turnover department (9-5, including a 6-0 edge in steals) and cashed in the Hog giveaways for a 12-3 advantage in points-off-turnovers as well as a 12-0 win in fastbreak points. A&M’s bench outscored Arkansas’ bench, 20-1, in the first 20 minutes.

Notae scored 17 points and Umude had 8 in the first half to lead the Hogs.

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