The Arkansas men’s basketball team lost its third consecutive game Saturday afternoon, falling 88-79 to the Kentucky Wildcats in front of an electric crowd inside Bud Walton Arena.
Freshman Nick Smith Jr. led all Razorback scorers, going for 25 points on 10-of-23 shooting with six assists, four steals and two rebounds.
“I thought Nick played really well, 25 points on 23 shots,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said following the game. “I think the biggest thing is just collectively how do we have on-court chemistry where we're clicking and playing good on both sides of the basketball.”
Spectators could feel the energy pulsating through the arena as the two teams tipped off, and from there the energy ebbed and flowed on every possession, questionable call — of which there were more than a few — and high-flying dunk.
In a back-and-forth affair for much of the first half, it felt like the Wildcats had an answer to every Arkansas basket, continually holding a multiple-possession lead. In what was an admittedly chippy first half between the two teams, Arkansas found itself staring at a 40-36 deficit heading into halftime.
The second half was anything but ordinary, as there were questionable calls throughout. Perhaps the most egregious was the ejection of junior guard Davonte Davis with 18:15 to play in the game. From there, the Wildcats seized momentum, fighting off any Arkansas run.
“I mean, it hurts a lot,” Smith said. “Any good player that goes out for a team, it's gonna take a toll on your team.”
Senior guard Antonio Reeves was spectacular for the Wildcats, scoring a game-high 37 points on 12-of-17 shooting from the field.
“That’s the single best performance that I’ve seen a player have against one of the teams that we’ve coached outside of the NBA obviously, in Reeves’ performance today,” Musselman said. “I mean, he was phenomenal.”
The Razorbacks’ inability to hit free throws — shooting just 20-31 for the game — and convert layups — an almost unbelievable 2-20 — was their downfall in a ballgame that was within reach for a while.
Fans began streaming out of Bud Walton Arena as the reality of Saturday’s game set in with just under four minutes to play.
It was another frustrating performance for the Razorbacks down the stretch, who find themselves looking for answers heading into postseason play.
“When you think about our win-loss record and you think about the metrics and you think about the non-conference and you think about the success of the teams that we did beat in non-conference play, yes, we feel confident that we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” Musselman said.
The Razorbacks will look to bounce back as they head into the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which takes place Wednesday-Sunday inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. Tenth-seeded Arkansas will take on seventh-seeded Auburn at 6 p.m. Thursday on the SEC Network.
“I think every team should go into the SEC Tournament fighting for their season, because it is a second season,” Musselman said.
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