By Kevin McPherson
The Arkansas Razorbacks have made a habit of blowing double-digit leads as well as finishing 1-1 in SEC Tournaments, and the latter is exactly how things landed for a third consecutive season after the 10th-seeded Hoop Hogs were defeated by 2-seed and 18th-ranked Texas A&M, 67-61, on Friday in the SECT quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Arkansas (20-13, 9-11 against SEC teams, NET No. 20) blew a 13-point halftime lead and was outscored 42-23 in the second half. The Razorbacks are considered a lock for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid when the NCAAT selection committee announces the 68-team field on Sunday. But despite picking up a win over 7-seed Auburn, 76-73, in the SECT second round on Thursday, the Hogs have lost 4 of their last 5 games as part of a larger 6-losses-in-9 games skid leading up to the NCAAT.
The Hogs led 38-25 at the break, but in customary fashion they saw thir lead evaporate early in the second half as Texas A&M used a 17-6 run to pull within 44-42 with 12 minutes to play. The Aggies surged ahead, 50-47, before Hogs senior big man Makhi Mitchell had a putback dunk followed by junior guard Devo Davis’ steal and transition layup to put the Hogs back in the lead at 51-50. But A&M quickly regained the lead and never relinquished it.
Freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr., led the Hogs with 16 points and 4 assists but also had 5 turnovers. Makhi Mitchell had 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Double-figure scorers in freshman guard Anthony Black and junior guard Ricky Council IV were each held to single-digits — Black had 9 points to go with 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists, and 2 steals while Council had 5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. Freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block. Senior big man Makhel Mitchell started and had 4 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Arkansas shot 54.2% from the field in the first half but 30.0% in the final 20 minutes as the Hogs finished 22-of-54 for the game (40.7%), including 5-of-20 from 3 (25.0%), and 12-of-19 at the free throw line (63.2%). A&M made 24-of-57 from the field (42.1%), including 1-of-10 from 3 (10.0%), and 18-of-24 from the free throw line (75.0%). The Aggies were only 2-of-2 at the foul line in the first half.
A&M dominated the glass (43-26, including offensive rebounds at 17-8) while winning second-chance-points (15-9) and points-in-the-paint (36-28). Arkansas won turnovers (15-12), points-off-turnovers (19-13), fastbreak points (15-5), and bench scoring (12-8).
“Obviously we played a very good first half and a poor second half,” fourth-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “I give Texas A&M credit for their second half play. The biggest theme heading into the game was rebounding the basketball. Obviously 26 to 43, we did not rebound the ball. Second half, the 7-0 foul count took away our aggressiveness I thought defensively. But again, I give A&M total credit for how hard they played and for changing the complexion of the game the last 20 minutes of play.”
The Razorbacks — now 1-2 this season against the Aggies — dropped to 5-2 in neutral-site games as part of an overall 7-11 mark in contests played away from their homecourt at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Arkansas has never won more than one game in an SECT under Musselman (his previous Hog teams went 1-0 in 2019-20, 1-1 in ’20-21, and 1-1 in ’21-22).
Texas A&M (24-8, 16-3 against SEC teams, NET No. 22) advances to the SECT semis on Saturday and will face the quarterfinals winner of 3-seed Kentucky and 6-seed Vanderbilt (it will be the second semifinals game on Saturday and will tip off 25 minutes following the conclusion of the first semis matchup that starts at noon CT between top-seed Alabama and 4-seed Missouri). The Aggies are currently projected as a 7-seed for the NCAAT. Guard Wade Taylor IV had 18 points to lead five Aggies in Souble-figure scoring and big man Henry Coleman III had a double-double (15 points and 11 rebounds).
Arkansas’ Quad-1 and Quad-2 combined resume — 4-10 record in Q1 games plus a 4-2 mark in Q2 games — plus a strong NET ranking and only one Q3 loss (against LSU in the SEC opener in December) assures the Hoop Hogs are a lock for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Arkansas was averaging an NCAAT 8-seed projection entering Friday games.
The Hogs slipped to 106-61 all-time against Texas A&M — includes 0-2 all-time against the Aggies in SECT play. The teams split their home-and-away regular-season series with each team winning on its home court.
The Hogs’ aforementioned 4-10 mark in Q1 games includes a neutral-site win over Auburn, a road win against Kentucky, a home win against Texas A&M, and a neutral-site win over San Diego State; and two losses to Alabama in home-and-away play, two losses to Texas A&M on the road and at a neutral site, as well as losses to Kentucky at home, Tennessee on the road, Baylor on the road, Missouri on the road, Auburn on the road, and Creighton at a neutral site. The Razorbacks 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 12-1 in Q3/4 games.
Musselman fell to 4-3 in the SECT and 93-41 overall at Arkansas, which includes a 45-33 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.
Musselman started the combination of Smith, Black, Davis, and the Mitchell twins.
Smith hit his first two three-point attempts to put the Hogs ahead 6-2, and his runner driving to the right baseline was the first score in a 9-2 Arkansas run that put the Hogs up 18-10.
Black’s 2-of-2 free throws followed by his stepback triple that led to a 5-point possession when Makhi Mitchell was the benefit of a flargrant-1 foul call on A&M — he made both free throws to give the Razorbacks their biggest lead at 29-17.
A&M strung together a 6-0 run to pul within 29-23, but Arkansas outscored the Aggies 9-2 to close out the first half with its biggest lead, 38-25.
Smith led Arkansas with 13 points at the break; Black had 7 points, 4 blocks, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals; and the Mitchell twins combined for 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals.
The Hogs’ defense was stifling and stingy in the first 20 minutes, holding the Aggies to 11-of-30 shooting from the field (36.7%), including only 1-of-5 from 3 (20%). Arkansas collected 9 blocks and 5 steals while committing only 6 fouls that led to only 2-of-2 free throw shooting A&M, a team that came in with an elite FTA resume in terms of volume on the season.
Arkansas shot 13-of-24 from the field (54.2%), including 5-of-12 from 3 (41.7%), and 7-of-10 from the free throw line (70%).
Arkansas won turnovers (9-5), points-off-turnovers (13-6), and fastbreak points (6-0). A&M won rebounding (19-11, includig offensive rebounding at 11-3), second-chance-points (8-6), and points-in-the-paint (16-12).