The No. 24 Razorback men’s basketball team (16-5, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) handled the Florida Gators (10-6, 6-5) at home, 75-64, Tuesday night for its seventh conference win in a row.
Arkansas sits in sole possession of second place in the SEC, behind No. 8 Alabama (17-5, 12-1).
The Razorbacks controlled the game from the tip-off and held the lead for 38 of the total 40 minutes. After trailing by as much as 13, the Gators shifted the momentum and took a 62-61 lead with under five minutes to play.
“In the second half, when they made the run, we got a little bit too loose with the ball,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in a postgame press conference. “But then I thought we settled down in the stretch.
Following the bucket from Florida, the Hogs responded with six unanswered points and never relinquished the advantage.
“I was really proud of how we played,” Musselman said. “Once they went up one, we did a great job of being mature and finishing the game the right way.”
The previous three Razorback victories have been one-score games with under two minutes left to play. Musselman and senior forward Justin Smith discussed the importance of being able to manage the game correctly in the final moments.
“I certainly think it helps us moving forward,” Musselman said. “We know that so many games in this conference come down to the last three minutes and it is important to execute on both sides of the basketball.”
Smith, who is still recovering from mid-season ankle surgery, stuffed the stat sheet in the win with 15 points, six rebounds, five steals, four assists and two blocks.
“I think we have shown over the course of the season, our ability to win these close games,” Smith said.
Musselman praised Smith’s effort and execution over the previous couple of games.
“He came back a little early from the injury because he is a great teammate and he really cares about winning,” Musselman said. “He’s playing like a next-level player the last two games on both sides of the basketball,”
Despite the team’s national ranking and growing recognition of his play, Smith said he is reluctant to focus on anything other than winning.
“Being ranked is nice, but to me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Smith said. “All it adds is a target on your back...the only thing that really matters is if you win the next game. If that number changes, then great, but it is just a number.”
The Razorbacks are slated to travel to College Station, Texas, to play the Aggies on Saturday, Feb. 20. However, the Texas A&M program has not played since Jan. 30, because of five postponements following a COVID-19 outbreak.
The game between the Hogs and Aggies has yet to be postponed and is scheduled to be televised on SEC Network at 7:30 p.m.