Arkansas pounds Georgia, 97-65, at Bud Walton Arean on Tuesday as Hoop Hogs maintain their solid NCAAT footing

By Kevin McPherson
on 2023-02-22 01:54 AM

By Kevin McPherson

The Arkansas Razorbacks avoided a bad loss while sending a serious pre-postseason message on Tuesday by drumming the Georgia Bulldogs, 97-65, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville as the Hoops Hogs are in great shape to lock up their third consecutive NCAAT Tournament invite spanning the last three seasons.

Arkansas (19-9, 8-7 SEC, NET No. 19) has won two consecutive games — and 7 of its last 9 league outings — to move back above .500 in league play while improving to 13-2 in homes games on the season. The Hogs are now just one win away from authoring the program’s fourth consecutive 20-win season, all under the watch of fourth-year head coach Eric Musselman.

Playing in just his fourth game back following a two-month absence, freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr., exploded for a career-high 26 points (9-of-14 field goals, including 5-of-8 from 3, and 3-of-4 free throws) to go with 2 assists, 1 rebound, and only 1 turnover in 29 minutes. Smith — he stroked four of his triples as part of his 18-point second half — now has three 20-plus-point scoring outings in just nine total games played on the season. The 97 points were the second-most scored by the Razorbacks this season (Arkansas defeated San Jose State, 99-58, in early December).

The Hogs blew the game open early and never looked back as they led by as many as 35 points while piling up dominant advantages across the board: plus-8 in turnovers (13-5), plus-14 in points-off-turnovers (20-6), plus-4 in rebounds (33-29), plus-16 in points-in-the-paint (40-24), and plus-21 in bench scoring (41-20).

The Razorbacks continued the white-hot-shooting they enjoyed against Florida in an 84-65 home win on Saturday by knocking down 37-of-58 from the field (63.8%, establishing a school record in an SEC game) on a season-high 26 assists with a season-low 5 turnovers against the Bulldogs on Tuesday. Arkasnas shot a sizzling 11-of-20 from 3 (55.0%), but made only 12-of-22 free throws (54.5%). Defensively, the Hogs were stifling once again while keeping the ‘Dogs to 19-of-52 field goal shooting (36.5%), including 6-of-18 from 3 (33.3%). Georgia made 21-of-27 free throws (77.8%).

“Nick was phenomenal,” Musselman said. “Not just offensively. Obviously the 9 of 14 and the 5 of 8 from three and his 26 points, but I thought he did a really good job defensively as well. For our team, that’s the most passes of any team I’ve ever had. Without going back through the film, we had it recorded as 266 passes. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a team over 250. Bench points were phenomenal for us. I thought basically everybody that checked into the game tonight really contributed.

“Nick obviously changes who we are with his perimeter shooting. Tonight his three-balls also opened up other looks for other guys from three range as well. So a really good game on both sides of the floor tonight for us.”

Smith had missed 13 games spanning mid-December to mid-February.

“I had a couple weeks of practice,” Smith said after the game. “My guys pushed me when I came back to, you know, when I first practiced to get my flow back and try to just learn the new plays and stuff. They did a good job with me, just being patient with me and see what happens.”

Playing his second game off the bench, Arkansas leading scorer and junior guard Ricky Council IV finished with 22 points (9-of-16 field goals, including 3-of-6 from 3, and 1-of-2 free throws), 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, and ZERO turnovers in 28 minutes. Freshman guard Anthony Black had 10 points (5-of-7 field goals and 0-of-2 free throws), a career-high-matching 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and ZERO turnovers in 31 minutes.

Freshman Jordan Walsh had 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals in 21 minutes. Senior reserve forward Jalen Graham had 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in 18 minutes. Senior forward / center Makhi Mitchell had 7 points (3-of-4 field goals and 1-of-1 free throw), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in 23 minutes. Junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 4 points (2-of-2 field goals), 3 assists, 1 rebound, and a game-high boxscore plus-30 in 28 minutes. Freshman reserve Joseph Pinion made both of his three-point attempts as he had 6 points, and walk-on big man Lawson Blake scored his first career points at Arkansas as he finished with 3 points.

The Hogs have a respectable Quad-1 and Quad-2 combined resume — a 3-6 record in Q1 games plus a 4-2 mark in Q2 games that help determine a team’s NCAAT viability — and though overall the Hogs possess a better-than-NCAAT-Bubble resume, they do own one bad loss already (a 60-57 at LSU back in December that counts as a Q3 defeat) so avoiding a second Q3 loss against Georgia that would have equated to a significant resume setback while adding pressure to a team facing a dangerous gauntlet in its last three regular-seasons games (at NET No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, at NET No. 3 Tennessee on Feb. 28, and home against NET No. 35 Kentucky on March 4) was imperative.

As for the SEC pecking order and seeding for the league’s postseason tournament in a couple of weeks, the Hogs are mathematically still in the hunt for a 3- or 4-seed, although the path offers very little margin for error. At 8-7 in league play, the Hogs sit two games behind Kentucky in the loss column (the Wildcats have only 5 losses in league play) and one game behind Tennessee, Auburn, and Vanderbilt in the loss column (each has 6 league losses). Due to the win-loss disparities and head-to-head tiebreakers, Arkansas likely needs to win out combined with each of those teams losing multiple games for the Hogs to land as a 3 or 4 seed at this point. The top 4 seeds in the league receive double-byes to the SECT quarterfinals.

The Razorbacks are now 4-2 in February in ’22-23 after the program had lost only one game in its 14 February tilts spanning the ’20-21 and ’21-22 campaigns — that’s 18-3 overall in the second month of the year spanning the past three seasons.

Arkansas improved to 26-16 all-time against Georgia as the Hogs have won 6 of the last 7 meetings between the two schools. The Razorbacks are now 13-3 against the ‘Dogs in games played in Fayetteville. Arkansas’ 32-point winning margin on Tuesday is the largest by the Hogs in the series against the ‘Dogs.

Georgia (16-12, 6-9 SEC, NET No. 131) has lost back-to-back games after enjoying a two-game winning streak. Guard Kario Oquendo led the Bulldogs with 20 points while Jari Abdur-Rahim had 12 points and Justin Hill chipped in 10 points. The ‘Dogs finished plus-1 in second-chance-points (8-7) and plus-5 in fastbreak scoring (15-10).

As stated above, the win over the Bulldogs (NET No. 131) counts as a Quad-3 result. Based on the current NCAA NET rankings, Arkansas (NET No. 19) is 3-6 in Q1 games that factor into its postseason resume (a win at Kentucky, a home win against Texas A&M, and a win over San Diego State in a neutral-site game, and losses to Texas A&M on the road, Baylor on the road, Missouri on the road, Alabama at home, Auburn on the road, and Creighton at a neutral site). The Hogs are 4-2 in Q2 games (home wins over Florida, Missouri, and Bradley, a neutral-site win over Oklahoma, a home loss to Mississippi State, and a road loss to Vanderbilt), and they are now 12-1 in Q3/4 games.

Musselman improved to 92-37 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 44-29 record against SEC teams and a 6-2 mark spanning the last two NCAA Tournaments that culminated in back-to-back Elite Eight runs and back-to-back final national Top 10 rankings.

Next up for the Hoop Hogs is the aforementioned road game against league leader and second-ranked Alabama on Saturday (1 p.m. CT, ESPN2).

Musselman started the combination of Smith, Black, Davis, Walsh, and Makhi Mitchell for the second consecutive game.

The Hogs led 8-6 when they strung together a 15-2 run capped by Smith’s three-point shot to go up 23-8 midway through the first half. Council, Graham, and Smith combined to score all but two points in the team’s final 20 points of the half as Arkansas led by as many as 23 points before going into the break with a 43-23 lead.

Council led the Hogs with 14 first-half points with Black contributing 6 points and 7 assists, Smith pitching in 8 points, and Graham registering 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists.

Arkansas shot 19-of-32 from the field (59.4%) in the opening half, including 3-of-9 from 3 (33.3%), and 2-of-3 at the free throw line (66.7%). Defensively, the Razorbacks held Georgia to 8-of-22 field goal shooting (36.4%), including 2-of-5 from 3 (40%). The ‘Dogs made 5-of-7 free throws (71.4%) in the first 20 minutes.

Arkansas was plus-4 in turnovers (6-2) and plus-9 in points-off-turnovers (11-2), and the Hogs were plus-4 in rebounds (16-12) and plus-4 in second-chance-points (4-0) in the first half. Arkansas was plus-14 in points-in-the-paint (26-12).

(Last updated: 2023-02-22 01:54 AM)