The No. 20 Razorback men’s basketball team (19-5, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) outscored LSU (14-8, 9-6) by 13 in the second half to complete the come-from-behind victory Saturday afternoon at Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas strengthened its grip on second place in the SEC and has not lost a conference game since Jan. 16 at Alabama.
Senior forward Justin Smith, who sat out the previous matchup against the Tigers due to an ankle injury, was instrumental in the Hogs’ win. He led the team with 19 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double and fourth overall during his Razorback career.
“Justin Smith was phenomenal tonight,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in a postgame press conference. “He is playing like an NBA player.”
During Smith’s postgame press conference, he was made aware of Musselman’s praise but deflected the credit to the players around him.
“I am only able to do what I do because of my teammates,” Smith said. “Whether they get me the ball in the right spots or being willing to make that extra pass...my success is because of them.”
Arkansas went into halftime trailing by six but came out of the break with a vengeance. The Razorbacks dominated the second half and found themselves up by 21 with six minutes to play.
“I think in the first half we were surprised by the zone (defense), so we kind of were tentative at attacking it,” Smith said. “I think we played more together in the second half just moving the ball…(and) getting good shots and good buckets.”
With senior guard Jalen Tate in foul trouble for the majority of the game, freshman guard Davonte Davis ran the point and contributed 15 points, six dimes and five boards.
“He’s fearless...I don’t know what he’s going to do but he’s going to do something,” Musselman said. “He’s got great confidence. I thought there were some possessions where we were not being aggressive enough and Devo stepped in and made some big shots.”
After the win, fans stuck around for the senior night ceremonies for players (Justin Smith, Jalen Tate, Vance Jackson Jr., Emeka Obukwelu) and student coach Khalil Garland, who committed to the Hogs as a top-100 recruit in 2017 but was never medically cleared to play after being diagnosed with a rare heart condition.
“I love coaching this group. I’m hard on them every day in practice,” Musselman said. “Sometimes you want to just wrap your arm around them and give them a kiss and a hug. That’s not really my nature during practice, but they are an incredible group to be around on a daily basis.”
Although Saturday was senior night, the seniors will have one more shot to play in front of a home crowd due to the postponed game versus Texas A&M being rescheduled to March 6. The Aggies haven’t played since Jan. 27 because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the program.
“We had a huge week. (We) won 2 really big games and now it’s a matter of how do we turn the page and get ready for South Carolina as quick as possible,” Musselman said.
Arkansas will hit the road to face South Carolina (6-12, 4-10) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 2. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.