The Razorback men’s basketball team (13-5) suffered a 81-77 loss to Oklahoma State (11-4) in the final moments of Saturday’s game in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Freshman guard Cade Cunningham — the presumptive No.1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft — did not start the game against the Hogs but he made sure to finish it. With the game knotted at 77 with under a minute to play, Arkansas forced a miss on the defensive end but failed to secure the rebound which led to a second-chance game-winning bucket from Cunningham.
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman and senior forward Justin Smith mentioned that rebounding was a focal point in practice leading up to the game. Despite the emphasis on attacking the glass, Oklahoma State out-rebounded the Razorbacks, 39-32.
“Defensive rebounding obviously hurt us,” Musselman said. Oklahoma State sophomore forward Kalib Boone was active on the glass and secured six of the Cowboys’ 12 offensive rebounds.
Smith echoed Musselman’s sentiment about the lack of rebounds.
“One of our main keys to the game was keeping them off the offensive glass and we were not able to do that tonight,” Smith said. “They wanted it more than we did.”
After his team secured the loose ball, Cunningham hit a step-back jumper over the outstretched arm of freshman guard Davonte Davis to put the Cowboys up 79-77 with 21 seconds left on the clock.
“Cunningham is really, really special,” Musselman said. “(He) hit some really big shots down the stretch and I thought he controlled the tempo of the game as well.”
The Razorbacks advanced into the half-court where Davis got tied up for a jump ball with 14 seconds left, though the Hogs retained control of the ball due to the possession arrow.
Coming out of a timeout, Smith inbounded the ball to sophomore forward Connor Vanover who handed the ball off to junior guard JD Notae who was immediately double-teamed. Notae split the double team with a bounce pass to an unguarded Vanover at the top of the key, but the 7-foot-3-inch forward’s shot rattled off the rim.
Smith confirmed in the press conference that the final play that took place was not the plan drawn up in the huddle.
“He was wide open and he’s a good shooter,” Smith said. “We’ll take that any day of the week and sometimes it just doesn’t fall.”
Cunningham grabbed the rebound and tacked on two more points at the free-throw line. He finished the game with 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Oklahoma State took more than double the amount of free throw attempts as the Razorbacks.
“We couldn’t figure out a way to get to the foul line,” Musselman said. “I guess we did not go to the rim enough to draw fouls,”
Smith took his time when responding to a question about the free-throw discrepancy.
“I think the refs are good at their jobs, and if they did not see any fouls, then there was not any fouls,” Smith said after a long pause.
Following the tough loss, Arkansas will return to Fayetteville to play Mississippi State (10-8) on Tuesday, Jan. 2 at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on SEC Network.
“I think a quick turnaround is good for us,” Smith said. “Having a game so quickly allows us to turn the page.”