FAYETTEVILLE – The red hot Razorbacks close their SEC men’s basketball regular season Saturday against the apparently not as rusty as you would think Texas A&M Aggies.
Arkansas, ranked 12th nationally, 20-5 overall and a second-place clinching 12-4 in the SEC sporting a 10-game SEC winning streak, and the Aggies, only 8-8 overall, 2-7 in the SEC,, tip off at 4 p.m. Saturday in the regular season finale at Walton Arena televised by the SEC Network.
The Aggies have only played 16 games overall and just nine SEC games because of covid-19 protocol.
Eight Texas A&M SEC games, including a home and home with Arkansas were postponed. Seven were postponed because covid-19 illness and or contact tracing within the Aggies and one because of the blizzard and power outages afflicting the South during February. Seven were ultimately canceled with Arkansas and A&M playing each other on this SEC makeup games weekend leading into the SEC Tournament that starts Wednesday at Bridgestone Area in Nashville, Tenn.
Coach Buzz Williams’ Aggies hadn’t played since Jan. 30 when they defeated Kansas State, 68-61 at K-State’s Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan Kan. when cleared to host Mississippi State last Wednesday in College Station, Texas.
Amazingly after not competing the entire month of February, the Aggies led Mississippi State, 33-29 at half before losing, 63-57/. A&M derived a 24 points/13 rebounds double-double from A&M 6-7 forward Emanuel Miller.
The Aggies performance off the long layoff no doubt surprised many.
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman claims not to be among them.
He cites second-year A&M Coach Williams, 277-177 head coaching New Orleans, Marquette, Virginia Tech and A&M with three Sweet Sixteens at Marquette and one at Virginia
“We were not surprised at all that they played so well,” Musselman said. “That’s the staple of Coach Buzz Williams’ teams–playing hard and competing, so I wasn’t surprised at all. I knew sitting at home that they could win that game and certainly throughout the game as well.”
Musselman says anticipate even better from the Aggies with a game under their belt.
“We expect it to be like the last year’s games (Arkansas won by 10 at Walton and lost by eight at College Station),” Musselman said. “They were hard-fought games and they’ve got some good pieces.”
Miller played better than good against Mississippi State.
“Miller is a really, really good basketball player,” Musselman said. “He draws fouls for them, excellent rebounder can really, really score the basketball. They’ve isolated him a lot in the post, mid-post. A really tough cover for sure.”
From last season’s team the Aggies also return forward Savion Flagg and guards Andre Gordon, Quenton Jackson and Jay Jay Chandler.
Chandler scored 14 last season on Arkansas in College Station.
Musselman is familiar with them all, especially after twice prepping for them this year in games not played.
“They ran most of the same stuff that they’d run both offensively and defensively,” Musselman said. “So I don’t think there’s a whole lot of change from that aspect.”
While A&M’s covid situation seems under control, the Razorbacks may again be without freshman backup center Jaylin Williams.
The UA does not officially comment but it’s believed Williams, who texted his teammates last Tuesday, didn’t travel to Arkansas’ 101-73 Tuesday victory at South Carolina because of covid-19 protocol.
Asked Thursday if he had an update on Williams’ status, Musselman replied, “No. No update.”
Williams has played exceptionally of late as have most Hogs on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, even with an obvious star in guard Moses Moody, 28 points against South Carolina, Arkansas sports seven different leading game scorers on its 10-game SEC winning streak.
“I came up with the phrase today, “Sharing the ball everybody feels stardom,” Musselman said. “Everybody can have their day or their game if you share the ball. I think the reason we have had different leading scorers is we have shared the ball. I think they believe in one another. I think that’s why we have found some success both offensively and defensively.”
LSU, beaten 83-75 by Arkansas and trailing by 20 during the second half, and South Carolina, dominated both halves by the Hogs, tried to stop
Arkansas with a zone defense.
Zone defense and slowing the tempo is what A&M employed against Mississippi State.
“Sometimes the zone allows you to get some 3-balls and I thought that’s what we were able to do against South Carolina,” Musselman said.
ARKANSAS (20-5, 12-4)
F-Justin Smith 6-7 Sr. 12.6 pts. 7.0 rebs.
C-Connor Vanover 7-3 So. 7.2 5.1
G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 10.4 3.6
G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 17.0 5.8
G-Davonte Davis 6-3 Fr. 7.3 3.8
TEXAS A&M (8-8, 2-7)
F-Savion Flagg 6-7 Sr. 8.3 pts. 4.3 rebs.
F-Emanuel Miller 6-7 So. 15.4 8.1
G-Andre Gordon 6-2 So. 8.7 2.4
G-Quenton Jackson 6-5 Sr. 9.7 2.4
G-Jay Jay Chandler 6-4 Sr. 8.3 2.5