By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Embarrassed by an 0-3 SEC start, including a home loss to Vanderbilt, and alarmed that Missouri last Saturday upset then 15th-ranked Alabama, the Arkansas Razorbacks with their best shot walloped Mizzou Wednesday night at Walton Arena.
Fueled by an extraordinary 49-15 first half, Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks mashed Mizzou, 87-43.
“I can’t remember a league game in any league I’ve ever coached where a team played so well for 40 minutes,”Musselman said.
Arkansas stands 11-5 overall/ 1-3 in the SEC heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. ESPN2 televised game at nationally No. 12 LSU, 15-1, 3-1 in Baton Rouge, La.
The Razorbacks face a more formidable group of Tigers in LSU’s Tigers in Baton Rouge than the 7-8, 1-2 Mizzou Tigers they tamed in Fayetteville.
But pregame, with the Hogs losing 5 of their last 6 and Mizzou’s Kobe Brown scoring 30 leading the stunner over Alabama, Mizzou’s Tigers had Arkansas’ attention start to finish.
Unveiling their season’s biggest overall starting lineup with usual reserve transfer forwards Trey Wade, and Kamani Johnson, joining forward Au’Diese Toney and center/power forward Jaylin Williams with lone guard JD Notae, the Hogs from the get-go outmuscled Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers always known for their physicality regardless of record.
Arkansas blew them away opening up 7-0 and answering Mizzou’s first basket, a three, with a 19-0 run.
At half, a Razorbacks squad done in by turnovers in its three previous SEC games had only committed two miscues to Mizzou’s 11, outshot Mizzou from the field, 17 of 33 to 3 of 25, outrebounded Mizzou, 23-17, and by a wider margin early, and held Kobe Brown to four points for the half and six for the game.
Almost as amazing as their first half, the Hogs never let up in the second half.
“Both halves I thought we played really good defensively.”Musselman said. “Especially that first half of only giving up three field goals. I can’t remember coaching a game where defensively every field goal attempt was challenged like it was tonight. Obviously we played better than we have all year.”
Cuonzo Martin admitted being blindsided by Arkansas’ unusual starting lineup and the start to finish lopsided outcome.
“Tough night,” Martin said. “I think it’s safe to say that I did’t see it coming but give those guys credit playing well from start to finish. They had a unique lineup for them. It was really more threes and fours (small forwards and power forwards). They were able to set a physical tone and we couldn’t recover from that. We didn’t see it coming.”
Or that Notae would be a one-man backcourt disruptor until guard Devo Davis off the bench joined him.
“You could see the first seven minutes that Notae did a good job pressuring (Mizzou guard) Boogie Coleman,” Martin said. “He had him walking the ball up the floor so they could extend their defense.”
Via Wichita State transfer Wade, 17 points, five rebounds, three assists, three steals and two shot blocks for the game, and Johnson, the via Arkansas-Little Rock transfer, four points and four rebounds in first-half nine minutes before missing the game’s remainder with a sprained ankle, sprang big surprises on Mizzou while 6-10 center Williams double-doubled with 13 points and 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals as Notae scored a game-leading 19 points.
“I thought defensively it gave us an identity as well as rebounding the basketball,” Musselman said. “We guarded the three (Mizzou was 2 of 16 compared to Vandy and Texas A&M’s 10 of 25 and 8 of 19 on three.”
“Wow,” Musselman said laughing, “We guarded the three and we guarded the rim! It can happen!”
Sophomore guard Davis, displaced from starting with the big lineup, excelled off the bench. Davis finished with 15 points, six rebounds, three steals and four assists against one turnover.
Davis loved every minute, including not starting as Arkansas snapped its SEC skid.
“I love the starting lineup we went with,” Jacksonville native Davis said., “I think it helped us out a lot. You’ve got Trey and you’ve got Kamani in there out-hustling the entire Missouri starting five, which is amazing for us. You saw on the bench. We had a lot of energy. We were excited the entire game.”
Johnson, a rugged 6-7, 235, started guarding Kobe Brown, 6-8, 250, with Wade, 6-6, 220, stepping in after Johnson went down.
“We shrunk the floor,” Musselman said of the strategy vs. Brown. “We gave help. Tried to let him see a wall. Didn’t want him to get anything in transition. Just did not want him to get any easy looks at all. That was, in a nutshell, it was basically just shrinking the floor to our best abilities and making sure we had the elbows and boxes covered whenever he had the ball in his hands.”
Brown couldn’t score much with Mizzou turning it over 23 times to Arkansas’ eight and being outscored 26-4 on miscues.
Offensively and defensively the goal was “play the right way,” Wade said. “We have to have a swag on defense. We’ve got to be the tougher team. We were tonight and it helped us a lot.”
Other than Johnson’s ankle injury the night couldn’t have gone better for Arkansas.
“It’s pretty swollen and it’s in a boot” Musselman said. “Short term, meaning LSU, and South Carolina and Texas A&M (SEC games next week at Walton) that’s kind of day to day.”