In the biggest game of the Eric Musselman era at Arkansas, freshmen Moses Moody and Jaylin Williams and seniors Justin Smith and Jalen Tate got the best of the big punch exchanges with a talented and veteran Alabama squad on Wednesday as the 20th-ranked Razorbacks ran away from the No. 6 Crimson Tide, 81-66, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville while denying the Tide a chance to clinch the SEC regular-season title on Nolan Richardson Court.
Moody finished with 24 points (including 16-of-19 free throws), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 1 steal and Williams netted a career-high 13 points (12 in the second half) to go with 8 rebounds, while Smith overcame a slow start to put up a double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds) and Tate finished with 12 points (5-of-7 field goals), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks before fouling out with a minute to play. Junior guard JD Notate finished with 12 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals off the bench.
Arkansas (18-5, 10-4 SEC, NCAA NET No. 25 entering Wednesday) has now won 8 consecutive league games for the first time since the 1994-95 national runner-up Hogs did the same, and the matchup marked the first men’s basketball game at BWA between two ranked teams since Feb. 18, 1998 (which was also an Arkansas victory as the then-No.16 Hogs defeated then-No. 13 South Carolina, 96-88).
The Razorbacks picked up their third Quad-1 win in a row, improved to 4-4 in Q1 games, and improved to 3-5 against the NET Top 50. The Hogs also moved a full game ahead of LSU for sole possession of second place in the SEC as they now sit only two games behind the league-leading Tide in the loss column. With two more SEC games left on the schedule for all league teams, the Hogs conceivably could finish either tied or a game behind ‘Bama in the loss column by this time next week, meaning the SEC would have decisions to make in light of both the Tide (one) and Hogs (two) having make-up games remaining against Texas A&M that if played would impact the conference regular-season title and the top two seeds for the SEC tournament (March 10-14 in Nashville, Tenn.).
“The guys were incredible,” Musselman said of his team following their upset win. “When Alabama made that (7-0) run to start the second half (for a 45-39 Tide lead), a lot of teams would hold their head. I thought we did a great job battling back. Obviously, Alabama’s so explosive offensively, they’re so well-coached, they’ve got incredible talent, they have a lot of seniors … we had three freshmen out there just battling for a stretch against the No. 6 team in the country, so really proud of everybody. I thought we got great minutes from everybody.
“I thought we did a great job of attacking the paint, not settling, trying to get free throws attempted. We did not want to get in a three-ball contest with them, we knew that we wouldn’t win that. So I thought we did a great job attacking the lane, and Moses especially was really effective drawing FTA’s. And the 11 blocks — we made a decision to have somebody kind of in the lane to help on the dribble-drives and 4 other guys just stay attached.”
Arkansas earned a season split against Alabama while avenging a 31-point loss in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in January, and the Hogs have now defeated the Tide in 7 of the last 8 meetings between the two schools. The Hogs also improved to 14-1 at home on the season. In their last 4 home games, Arkansas held Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Florida, and Alabama to a combined scoring average of 56.5 points while winning those games all by double-digits for an average margin of 14.3 points.
Alabama (18-6, 13-2 SEC, NCAA NET No. 8 entering Wednesday) had its 3-game winning streak snapped while losing for only the second time in league play. The 15-point losing margin is the second largest for the Tide on the season.
Musselman, in his second season as Head Hog, improved to 2-5 against ranked teams (includes 2 consecutive wins), 18-15 in SEC games, and 38-17 overall at Arkansas. He improved his mark to 2-1 coaching head-to-head against Alabama’s Nate Oats.
Next up for Arkansas is another home game on Saturday against third-place LSU.
The Hogs held first-half leads of 12 and 10 points, but after a slow start from 3 the Tide warmed up late in the half to pull within 39-38 at the break. ‘Bama started the second half with a 7-0 spurt to grab its biggest lead, 45-39, but Williams went to work inside for buckets, Moody manufactured trips to the free throw line and made a high percentage of his attempts, and Smith added to a strong rebounding game with late scoring in the paint as Arkansas used runs of 17-2 and 14-2 to close the show for a 15-point win.
“Really, I’ve been saying this from the beginning: I just want to do whatever this team needs,” Williams said about what led to his best offensive performance of the season coming in the final 20 minutes. “At the moment when we’re in the game and kind of struggling at the offensive end, Coach Muss believed in me to put the ball in my hands to make the right choices. That’s what really happened … It’s a great feeling knowing that’s how I want to be, I want to be the guy that comes in and can change the game if we need it. It’s a great feeling.”
Arkansas shut Alabama down in the second half, holding the Tide to 4-of-16 shooting from 3 in the final 20 minutes as ‘Bama finished 11-of-33 from distance (33.3%, below the Tide’s league-leading 36%). The Hogs also limited ‘Bama in overall field goal shooting at 26-of-69 (37.7%). Arkansas dominated free throws attempted and made, knocking down 27-of-43 (62.8%) compared to Alabama’s 3-of-8 (37.5%). The Hogs made 25-of-54 shots from the field (46.3%), including 4-of-14 from 3 (28.6%). The Razorbacks were plus-1 on the glass (39-38), plus-1 in points-off-turnovers (10-9), plus-3 in turnovers (16-13), plus-8 in points in the paint (36-28), and plus-8 in blocks (11-4).
Yale senior-transfer and 6-10 forward/center Jordan Bruner, who missed the first matchup between the two teams with a meniscus injury before returning to the lineup over the weekend, led the Tide with 14 points (including 4 made three-pointers that all came in the first half) and 6 rebounds. Villanova sophomore-transfer guard Jahvon Quinerly had 13 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds, and senior guard John Petty, Jr. finished with 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals before being ejected / fouling out as 2 of his 5 fouls were a result of drawing technical fouls. The Hogs held Tide leading scorer and sophomore guard Jaden Shackleford to only 5 points and SEC Player of the Year candidate and senior combo forward Herbert Jones to 4 points and 4 rebounds before he fouled out.
Musselman went with the same starting lineup for the fifth consecutive game — Moody, Davis, Smith, Tate, and Connor Vanover.
Arkansas held ‘Bama to an 0-of-9 start from 3 and the Hog strung together a 17-3 run for a 21-9 lead. The Tide hit their first triple as part of a 7-0 run to close within 21-16, but a Tate lay-in and two Moody free throws fueled a 5-0 Hogs’ spurt that put them ahead by double digits again, 26-16. ‘Bama chipped away again with an 8-2 surge that closed its deficit to 33-29.
Notae completed a layup-and-1 to extend Arkansas to a 36-29 lead at the 2:17 mark, but Bruner went off from there to make 3 three-pointers sandwiched around a Notae triple as ‘Bama closed within 39-38 at the break.
Tate led the Hogs in the first 20 minutes with 12 points, Moody had 10, Notae had 6, and Davis had 5. Bruner led the Tide with 12 points and Petty, Jr. had 10.
Arkansas shot 13-of-25 fron the field (52%), including 2-of-5 from 3 (40%), but only 11-of-18 at the free throw line (61.1%) due to a 3-of-9 freebie shooting stint to close the first half. Alabama shot 14-of-35 from the field (40%), including 7-of-17 from 3 (41.2% after starting the game 0-of-9 from distance. The Tide were 3-of-6 at the free throw line (50%). ‘Bama was plus-1 on the glass (19-18) and plus-1 in the turnover department (8-7) in the first half.