No way around it. That's one Arkansas really needed.
We've spent the month of January talking about what Arkansas needs to do to get in the NCAA Tournament, talking about how close they've been, but eventually all the close-but-no-cigars need to turn into some big fat Cubans, and that's just not happening.
The reality of the magic of Bud Walton is that last year, Arkansas was extremely fortunate to run the table in SEC play. They had to pull a few rabbits out of their hat to do it, but Qualls' dunk against Kentucky seems to be the only thing in that hat this year.
The Razorbacks were trying. They could have been dead several times. In the middle of the second half, Missouri pushed a one point lead to 10 in just a little over a minute after hitting three straight threes. But Arkansas fought back and took the lead 61-60 with 3:28 to go. The game was tied at 64 after Rashad Madden scored on an old fashioned three point play with 1:59 left, and the Hogs forced Missouri into a missed jumper on their next possession.
Unfortunately, Earnest Ross won the offensive rebound. And following a timeout, hit a three to give the Tigers the lead. That started an 11-2 run to close out the game. The rebound/three by Ross was easily the deciding sequence of the game.
That offensive rebound proved to be the killer. Arkansas was bad on the boards all night, losing the battle 42-26, and 16-9 on offensive rebounds. Moses Kingsley only grabbed one in his nine minutes. Jacorey Williams may have hurt himself in the Auburn game. He was playing well in the first half Saturday but didn't play in the second half and only played for two minutes against Missouri.
The Razorbacks just couldn't stop Ross and Jabari Brown in the second half. The two had 35 of the Tigers' 39 second half points, nine of their 20 rebounds, and were 12-12 from the free throw line (the whole team was 16-16 in the half). Arkansas didn't have enough firepower to keep up with them.
Arkansas did get 20 from Madden, 16 from Bobby Portis, and another 16 from a resuscitated Michael Qualls, but only 19 points from the rest of the team. Coty Clarke had an off night, going for seven points and five rebounds in 30 minutes. Anthlon Bell, who had a good game against Auburn on Saturday, was 0-4 from three and finished with two points. There was no spurt from Fred Gulley, who finished with three points in 25 minutes. And Kikko Haydar could only get a garbage time three out of his 14 minutes.
The Hogs made too many mistakes. There were two fast breaks in which an Arkansas player had a chance to pass to Qualls for what may have been an easy dunk, but Haydar passed to Kingsley and Madden took it himself, both drew fouls but Madden and Kingsley made only 1-4 of those free throws. Down by one with 11:43 to go, Alandise Harris stole the ball in the backcourt, and in one of the most awkward fast breaks you'll ever see, passed to Haydar in the paint and Haydar couldn't convert the difficult shot. It seemed like many of Arkansas' 12 turnovers were the result of passes in the paint the team couldn't handle. Maybe that's where the lack of a true point guard hurt the team.
Close as Arkansas may be, they just continue digging themselves into a hole. It's been an absolutely awful month of January for the program. The team has faded down the stretch of every close game. Several opportunities to establish themselves as a resurgent program are gone. How many more will they get?
Sure, it's technically possible the team could go on a run in February/March, but it will have to be incredible.
Hopefully February will be better, but starts with a game on the road in Baton Rouge.