A tale of two halves led to the Arkansas men’s basketball team blowing a double-digit lead for a third time this season Wednesday night, falling to 6-7 in conference play with its 62-56 loss to Texas A&M.
A slow-burning first half drenched in fouls and turnovers for both teams broke way to a late Razorback rally with eight minutes on the clock following two missed free throws by A&M’s Julius Marble leading to the largest lead of the game with 12 points.
Top-scoring Razorback junior guard Davonte Davis led the Hogs’ charge with 11 of his total 14 points coming from the first half, including three triples.
Selfless offense and an unmatched run game paired with attentive defense and rebounding produced a promising start for the upset-minded Razorbacks hoping to deliver a similar loss to the Jan. 31 meeting of the rival schools at Bud Walton Arena.
It was a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the first half from junior Aggie guard Hayden Hefner that spelled the beginning of the end for the Razorbacks’ short-lived stretch of success on the road. Arkansas led 33-24 at the half.
“There’s a big difference between 12 and 9,” freshman guard Anthony Black said in the postgame press conference. “So big shot for them. We just came out where we left off. Just giving up 3s and just not defending well. So that kind of gave them a spark, and we didn’t stop their run.”
The Aggies flourished in the opening stages of the second half, cutting the nine-point lead down to one possession following consecutive 3-point jumpers from guards Dexter Denis and Wade Taylor IV, who also scored on a successful hard drive to the rim resulting in a trip to the line to cap off the 9-2 run.
The constricting match-up zone defense kept the Razorbacks beyond the arc, where they were shooting near their season average with 31% in comparison to Aggies 50%.
“It’s our kryptonite every night,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “If you don’t defend the three and then you shoot a low percentage it’s going to be really hard to win. It’s frustrating to be in a position and then just not be able to close out close games.”
The Razorbacks were able to reestablish a lead of five following a 7-0 run with 9:27 to go in the game, emphasized by a massive dunk from Anthony Black that drew a timeout from the Aggies.
The Hogs were unable to capitalize on the momentum down the stretch as the offense began to grow desperate, given difficult looks and forced to take shots from 3-point range.
Foul trouble plagued the Arkansas offense in the second half as Jordan Walsh and Makhel Mitchell, starters and difference makers on both sides of the court early, fouled out of the game.
There were also issues for the Razorbacks from the foul line going 7-14 on free throws. The Aggies went 18-22 from the line in contrast, shooting above their season average.
“This team has struggled unlike a group that I've had since I've been coaching college,” Musselman said. “This group has struggled to finish games. We played a close game against Creighton. We played a great game against Baylor and came up short. I mean, I don't know how to explain it. We have not played good.”
The Razorbacks will look to snap the two-game losing skid at 1 p.m. Saturday at home against the Florida Gators, who will be without leading scorer Colin Castleton after he fractured his hand Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and stream live on the ESPN app.
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