Tuscaloosa, (AL.) — Alabama’s off-court problems have dominated the news in the sports world in the last week. After barely walking out of Columbia, SC with a win on Wednesday, some thought the added attention might affect the Tide against Arkansas, too. With nothing to lose, the Hogs were dangerous going into Tuscaloosa.
Defense was a strong point early for the Hogs. They held Bama scoreless for the first 4:03 of the game. And in that same time frame, Arkansas forced 3 turnovers (3 steals), blocked two shots, and forced a 5-second violation on an inbound from the baseline.
The impressive defensive performance, however, would come at a price. Anthony Black grabbed two early fouls and had to sit for nearly 16 minutes of the first half on the bench. Without the former 5-star point guard, it fell into the hands of Nick Smith Jr. and Devo Davis to lead the team into halftime.
The duo accounted for half of the Hogs’ total field goals in the first half, including 13/18 points in Arkansas’s 18-8 run to end the half. Devo was also an integral part of the Razorbacks’stifling first-half defense. Davis was assigned to guard the Tide’s star freshman, Brandon Miller, and was excellent at limiting him on the offensive side of the court. Miller was held to just 7 points in the first half—a team-high for Bama.
The Hogs lead at the break 37-28.
No. 2 Alabama is No.2 for a reason, though, and the hogs found out in the opening minutes of the second half. The Tide struck quickly with three baskets in the first minute and a half. Smith Jr. answered with consecutive buckets, but nothing could quash Bama’s crowd or their offense.
Bama went on a 19-9 run to grab their first lead since it was 20-19 with 7:31 to go in the first half. The Tide expanded the run to put up an additional 9 points before the Hogs finally broke their scoring drought.
Arkansas had multiple opportunities to close the gap in the middle of the half, but their free-throw shooting was awful. The Hogs were also letting Alabama pull down key offensive boards, giving them too many second chances. And important pieces of Arkansas’s offense could not seem to stay out of foul trouble late. Anthony Black and Jordan Walsh fouled out at 4:35 and 1:08 left in the game, respectively.
With 2:48 left on the clock, the Razorbacks were down by 12 points and the game looked all but lost. In the next 56 seconds,Arkansas scored 7 unanswered points to cut the lead by more than half. Alabama’s Jahvon Quinerly knocked down a clutch three to take a bit of the pressure off, but Devo Davis answered with an and-1 layup, knocking down the free throw.
Arkansas then began to foul. The Tide knocked down all but two of their attempts in the last minute of the game, but they were sloppy on the other end of the court. Bama unnecessarily fouled Smith Jr. on the floor, gave Ricky Council IV a chance at an old-fashioned 3-point play—which he took advantage of—and left Smith Jr. open for a 3-point shot with 14 seconds left, cutting the lead to two.
Devo Davis fouled Bama’s Rylan Griffen on the inbound and Griffen scored one of two to grow the lead to 3 with 8 seconds left. With 4 seconds left, Council IV sent up a desperation 3 to tie the game but fell short. Davis rebounded but had almost no time to put up a good shot.
Arkansas loses a tough one 86-83
Arkansas shot 41% (29/70) from the floor and 50% (5/10) from deep. The Hogs shot 69% from the free throw line, but most of the 9 missed opportunities came during the large second-half, Alabama run. That most likely would have changed how the final three minutes were played. After a great passing performance Tuesday against Georgia, Arkansas recorded just 6 assists and turned the ball over 11 times.
The first-half defense for Arkansas was great, holding Alabama to 33% (10-30), turning them over 10 times (5 steals), and blocking 4 shots. Alabama could get whatever they wanted in the second half, however.
The Tide finished by shooting 45% (29-64) from the field. Although a great 3-point shooting team, Arkansas held Bama to just 3-22 (13%) from beyond the arch. Arkansas forced 17 turnovers, stole 12 of them, and blocked 6 shots. The Tide won on the boards, out-rebounding the Hogs 48 to 37.
Nick Smith Jr tied Alabama’s Brandon Miller for a game-high 24 points. Devo Davis and Ricky Council IV also had outstanding games, scoring 21 and 20 points, respectively. Makhel Mitchell led the team with 8 boards, followed closely by Jordan Walsh with 7 and Smith Jr. with 6. Although he only recorded 9 minutes, Jalen Graham led the team with 3 blocks.
Arkansas faces another quad 1 opponent on Tuesday as they head to Knoxville to take on the No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers. The Volunteers have struggled in 3 of their last 4 games, but their one win was against the Tide. Tipoff is scheduled for February 28th at 8:00 pm CST.