Fri December 22, 2023

By Lance Hawley

Sports Razorbacks

Hogs Rally in Second-Half for Win Over Abilene Christian

Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball Arkansas Hoops Muss Bus
Hogs Rally in Second-Half for Win Over Abilene Christian
By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' alarm seemed to go off at halftime on Thursday night and they outscored Abilene Christian 55-38 in the final 20 minutes to take an 83-73 win in Bud Walton Arena.

The Hogs trailed 35-28 at intermission. However, the Hogs came out fast in the second half. The last time Abilene Christian led was 43-42 with 15:26 remaining in the game. Eric Musselman opted for a big change in the second half going with four guards which meant Trevon Brazile didn't play much.

"Stunk, stunk and stunk some more," Musselman said. "The group of six guys that played the last 16 minutes of the game, they played with energy. It’s a group that practiced with energy. That first half was not good on either side of the basketball. As a team, we’ve got to improve in a lot of areas as I’ve stated, and guys need to individually improve. We need guys to be able to put the ball on the deck and beat people off the the dribble. Too much standing in the first half. 

"We changed what we were running as well. We ran some of our [Milwaukee] Bucks offense, some wide touch fist, some wide touch keep. I thought that really, really helped us. And then we played small ball. Devo (Davis) at the four. He guarded the post as well as anybody on our roster tonight. Maybe better."

Part of the group in the second half was Musselman's decision to start Keyon Menifield Jr. in the second half. In just his second game of the season since being ruled eligible, Menifield played 28 minutes adding 11 points, six rebounds and two assists. He had four turnovers, but only one in the second half.

"Keyon just plays hard," Musselman said. "We’ve been asking our guards to rebound. Keyon goes in the game, he weighs less than me, and he has six rebounds, five defensive rebounds. Four of eight (shooting). Still has a lot of rust on him. Ball moves, pace of play is quicker, 55 points in the second half compared to 28 in the first half. I mean, we doubled up our points by playing with way more pace.

"Look, we had a game tonight that we were down seven at half, and we had a player go plus-21 when he was in the game. That being Keyon Menfield. Plus 21 in a game you’re down seven at half. So really pleased with him.

"I thought (Jalen) Graham came in and gave us good minutes. I thought Chandler (Lawson) was really good inside with his 10 rebounds, and obviously (Tramon) Mark and (Khalif) Battle off the bench … I mean, there’s just not going to be many games where you see a team score 62 points off the bench."

Menifield didn't come off the court in the second half.

"I thought he was great," Musselman said. "Like I said, plus-21. We had some guys who were in the minus tonight. I thought he was awesome. I thought Battle played great, and T-Mark, I thought those guys did a great job in the backcourt. I thought Devo Davis was phenomenal. We had him guard 21, and 21 ends up 3 for 11. In the first half, Devo guarded him the whole first half and did a great job on him. Then we moved him to the 4. Like I said, his post defense was as good as any of our post guys."

In addition to Menifield off the bench, Mark topped the Hogs with 25 points, 11 rebounds and two assists. Battle added 18 points, four rebounds and one steal. Musselman had praise for both Mark and Battle.

"He was awesome," Musselman said. "The pull-up jumper, awesome. Didn’t force any threes. He only took two threes, he makes them both. 

"Battle only takes four threes, he makes three of them. Both those guys were really efficient. I thought Battle played his best defensive game of the season. And it wasn’t even close. I thought he got in a stance. He worked this week in practice, and it correlated to the game."

In the first half, Arkansas continued to turn the ball over. They corrected that issue in the second half and ended the game with 17. Musselman talked about getting that issue corrected at halftime.

"It's hard to simulate because what they do is jump passing lanes," Musselman said. "They are one of the highest steal teams in the country. They've got great quickness. They've got great anticipation. They're very well-coached defensively to be a disruptive team. We were just too careless. We've got to work on our ball-handling. I've got to get better. Michael Musselman has got to be better. Todd Lee. We all have to get better. So do our players.

"Our players have got to get in the gym and work on their ball-handling. Not all of them, but we've got some guys that need to work on perimeter skills and to learn how to get open when somebody denies you. We don't have enough guys that understand if I run a dribble handoff to Mike Cawood, he has to set his man up to accept, receive and get open. So, those are areas we are going to continue to work on, talk about and get better at. The good thing is we've identified some areas we have to get better. We very clearly have identified them. The worst part is when you can't figure out where you stink at."

Arkansas shot 52% (27-52) from the field, 47% (7-15) behind the 3-point line and 79% (22-28) from the charity stripe. Arkansas won the battle of the boards 45-34.

Arkansas (8-4) has one more game before they begin SEC play on Jan. 6 against Auburn. Arkansas will host UNC Wilmington at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 30, in Bud Walton Arena and televised on the SEC Network. 

Photos Courtesy of Craven Whitlow CW3 Sports Action