Game story: Arkansas dials up high-octane offense in first road win of season, 91-84, over Missouri on Wednesday

By Kevin McPherson
on 2024-02-01 01:15 AM

By Kevin McPherson

Arkansas’ miserable 2023-24 campaign saw an explosive offensive uptick against league-winless Missouri on Wednesday as the Razorbacks carved out a 91-84 win over the Tigers in Columbia, Mo., marking the team’s first road win of the season and its second Quad-2 victory.

The Hoop Hogs (11-10, 2-6 SEC, NCAA NET No. 129) snapped their three-game losing streak while succeeding in NOT mirroring the 2008-09 Hogs’ woeful 1-7 league start through their first eight conference games that eventually devolved into a program-worst 2-14 SEC finish. The team also avoided falling below .500 in its overall record, which would have been a first under head coach Eric Musselman now in his fifth season as Head Hog. The Razorbacks improved to 3-6 in games played away from their home at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, which includes a 1-3 mark in true road games. Arkansas’ NET resume now includes a 1-6 mark in Q1 games, 2-3 in Q2, 4-1 in Q3, and 4-0 in Q4.

Playing a second consecutive game without preseason All SEC selections Trevon Brazile (knee soreness) and Davonte “Devo” Davis (stepped away from the program), Arkansas benefitted from junior wing Tramon Mark’s team-high 22 points and senior big man Makhi Mitchell’s second consecutive double-double — a season-high 19 points and 14 rebounds on his 24th birthday — that spearheaded the team’s dominance in points-in-the-paint (56-30, points-off-turnovers (25-15), and rebounding (35-26).

The 91 points represent the Hogs’ high-water scoring mark in league play (the previous high was in a 78-77 win over Texas A&M earlier this month). In Arkansas’ six other SEC games, the team failed to score more than 68 points in a single contest while failing to reach 60 points in three of those tilts.

The Hogs led by 19 points at halftime, and they were up by 23 points (57-34) early in the second half before Missouri methodically chipped away to pull within the final seven-point margin.

“It means a lot,” Mitchell said of having his best performance of the season on his birthday. “My birthday comes around one time a year, you know. Having a game on my birthday is pretty special to me, so I just go out there and play hard as I do every game and try to do what I can to help the team.”

Arkansas had 14 assists on 33-of-61 overall field goal shooting (54.1%), including 4-of-6 from 3 (66.7%). The Hogs had 10 dunks (5 of which belonged to Mitchell) and made 21-of-26 at the free throw line (80.8%). The collective shooting efficiency far exceeded what the team managed in its previous seven league games. Defensively, Arkansas yielded 27-of-59 field goal shooting (45.8%) to Mizzou, including 10-of-20 from 3 (50%). The Tigers made 20-of-22 free throws (90.9%).

In addition to owning points-in-the-paint, points-off-turnovers, and overall rebounding, Arkansas won the turnover battle (19-16, including a 10-9 advantage in steals); offensive rebounds (12-11); bench scoring (35-28); fastbreak scoring (19-16); and blocks (6-4).

Mark had 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 1 assist, and 3 turnovers to go with his 22 points in 34 minutes. Mitchell chipped in 2 assists to go with his 19 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes. Mark and Mitchell each made 8-of-13 field goals (61.5%) while each made 75% of their free throws (Mark was 6-of-8 at the line, Mitchell was 3-of-4).

Sophomore guard Keyon Menifield, Jr., contributed 16 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover in 32 minutes off the bench. Senior forward / center Jalen Graham had 13 points (6-of-11 field goals and 1-of-2 free throws), 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks, 1 rebound, and 3 turnovers in 25 minutes before fouling out. Freshman guard Layden Blocker started and had 9 points (2-of-2 field goals and 5-of-6 free throws), 3 rebounds (all on the offensive glass), 2 assists, 1 steal, and 3 turnovers in 29 minutes. Senior guard Khalif Battle and senior forward / center Chandler Lawson both started as each contributed 6 points.

“I thought we played great basketball,” Musselman said. “There was a renewed sense of urgency, a focus, a disposition pregame. It was a team that was ready to play. I’m proud of their toughness tonight, proud of the way that we defended in the first half. In the second half when you’re playing with a lead defensively, you don’t want to put them at the foul line and have the clock stopped, so defensively we’ve got some things we have to clean up before we go to Baton Rouge on Saturday for an early tip. But the team had fun tonight. You could see it. They competed, they had fun while they were out there and just, again, when’s the last time we had 10 steals in a game this year? So two really good steps in the right direction. You want your basketball team to be improving. I thought the last 80 minutes we’ve improved as much as any two games that we’ve had this year.”

Musselman was pleased with his point-guard play and 5-spot-by-committee production led by Mitchell.

“Point guard play was phenomenal,” Musselman said. “I give it an A-plus. Keyon had much… I mean, Keyon the last two days at practice, he was focused, so he got the nod tonight getting 32 minutes. His free throws were very important going 6 for 6 and the ball flows really well when he’s out there. I thought he made a couple of great pocket passes that might not have gone down as assists because maybe one of our bigs took two or three dribbles.

“I think our three-headed bigs have been unbelievable. I really do. I think Chandler and Jalen and Khi have been outstanding. Not good, but outstanding. Jalen’s looking at the rim and he’s being super, super aggressive scoring the basketball. I mean, he had four steals, four assists. I mean, Graham offensively was outstanding. And Chandler continues to do all the little things that might not show up in a box score. Like I mentioned with Makhi’s play, when he plays like that he’s as good as any 5 in the country.”

Arkansas has now won six of its last seven games against Missouri (8-13, 0-8 SEC, NCAA NET No. 122) going back to the 2020-21 season, and the Hogs moved to 34-27 in the all-time series. The teams will close out their home-and-away series when Arkansas hosts Mizzou at BWA on Saturday, Feb. 24.

The Tigers had three players score in double figures led by Tamar Bates’ 29 points, 5 steals, and 6 turnovers. Little Rock native and former Hog Connor Vanover had 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block in 14 minutes off the bench for Mizzou.

Musselman improved to 106-52 overall as Head Hog, which includes a 47-39 mark against SEC foes and a 59-13 record against non-conference opponents (all three marks include postseason results).

Next up for Arkansas is another road game on Saturday against LSU (11 a.m. CT, Feb. 3, ESPN2).

Against Missouri on Wednesday, Musselman started Blocker, Mark, Battle, Lawson, and Graham.

The Hogs ran out to a 20-10 lead behind Battle’s two made triples and a rim-pressuring offense that saw frontliners Graham, Lawson, and Mitchell each score around the basket. The Razorbacks led by 9 points, 35-26, late in the first half before closing on a 12-2 run to take their biggest lead into the break, 47-28.

Mitchell (14 points and 8 rebounds) led the first-half production for the Hogs. Menifield contributed 9 points and 2 assists in the first 20 minutes.

Arkansas had 8 first-half assists for 19-of-32 field goal shooting (59.4%), including 3-of-4 from 3 (75.0%). The Hogs were 6-of-6 at the free throw line (100%) in the opening half.

Defensively, the Hogs yielded only 9-of-28 field goal shooting (32.1%) to Mizzou in the first half, including 4-of-9 from 3 (44.4%). The Tigers shot 6-of-6 at the free throw line (100%) in the first 20 minutes.

Arkansas dominated points-in-the-paint (30-8), fastbreak scoring (11-0), points-off-turnovers (13-5), bench scoring (23-7), and rebounds (19-13) in the opening half.

(Last updated: 2024-02-01 01:15 AM)