FAYETTEVILLE – The now nationally No. 6/SEC leading Alabama Crimson Tide that rolled Arkansas, 90-59 last Jan. 16 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. just got rolled by the Razorbacks in Fayetteville.
In Wednesday night’s first Top 25 men’s basketball matchup at Arkansas’ Walton Arena since 1998 when Nolan Richardson still coached the Razorbacks, Coach Eric Musselman’s 20th-ranked Razorbacks stemmed the Tide, 81-66.
It marked the eighth straight SEC success for the Hogs advancing to 18-4, overall and solely in SEC second at 10-4 going into Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Walton against third-place LSU, 9-5 in the league/14-7 overall.
And it had the 4,000 maximum by covid restrictions attending thundering like a version of a 19,000-plus sellout.
“The arena was rocking,” Musselman said. “You’d never know there was a limited amount of crowd. The student section, they were worth a lot of points to us tonight, I can tell you that.”
Coach Nate Oats’ Crimson Tide, who would have clinched the SEC championship by winning Wednesday, leads at 13-2 in the SEC dropped bewildered to 18-6 overall.
It didn’t look to end this way given Alabama’s late first half and especially early second half.
Despite at times playing about as good as they could play during the first half they led by as much as 11, the Hogs closed intermission only up 39-38.
A cresting Tide’s 7-0 run sent the Razorbacks reeling at the second half’s outset.
Musselman called timeout. From there the Razorbacks regrouped to outscore Alabama, 42-21.
“When Alabama made that run to start the second half you know a lot of teams would hold their head,” Musselman said. “I thought we did a great job battling back.”
What did he tell them? Especially knowing how the Tide trounced them in Tuscaloosa as Musselman recalled, “We stunk that game.”
“I think the biggest message was, ‘Hey look, they made a run.” Musselman said postgame Wednesday. “We knew they were going to make a run. Don’t feel sorry for ourselves.’We’ve got to get back to what we worked on the last few days, which is defend the three, run them off the three-point line. When they dribble drive, get there quickly, try to take a charge, clog the lane and then get into our scramble defense. Attack the basket and be strong with the ball and two-foot jump stop and finish at the rim or go to the free throw line.”
Arkansas did all the above. Instead of the Tide hitting 15 of 36 3-pointers like it did on Arkansas in Tuscaloosa while attempting one less free throw even mostly firing treys, the Tide in Fayetteville found its 11 of 33 treys negated by Arkansas attacking. Arkansas made 27 of 43 free throws to Alabama’s 3 of 7.
“I thought we did a great job of attacking the paint,”Musselman, said, noting he was a doused by his players in the postgame celebration. “Not settling. Trying to get free throws attempted. We did not want to get in a 3-ball contest with them. We knew that we wouldn’t win that. I thought we did a great job attacking the lane. Moses (Moody) especially was really effective, drawing FTA’s. (free throws attempted).”
On a night when his teammates sank but 11 of 24 free throws, Moody hit 16 of 19 while scoring a game-leading 24 points.
On the defensive end, Arkansas blocked a surprising 11 shots with guards Justin Tate and Moody leading with four and three blocks.
Justin Smith, the graduate transfer making a tentative return on Jan. 16 against Alabama after missing four games from ankle surgery double-doubled Wednesday with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Tate and off the bench guard JD Notae, Notae in only 16 minutes, scored 12 points each.
Even rarely used 6-8 junior forward Ethan Henderson provided big time help. Henderson tallied a bucket, two rebounds, two shot blocks and an assist spelling big men Connor Vanover and Jaylin Williams late in the first half.
“ I thought Ethan came in and did a really good job,” Musselman said. “His quickness off the floor tonight really helped us. His seven minutes were really valuable minutes.”
However no Razorbacks big man played bigger Wednesday than Jaylin Williams. The 6-10, 245 freshman out of Fort Smith Northside posted an incredible plus 30 for his Wednesday plus/minus. For his 22 minutes Williams played, large physical defense including eight rebounds and career high 13 points with six accumulated on three possessions after Alabama’s 7-0 second half starting run.
“ I thought that six straight points by Jaylin Williams was a big part of that 17-2 run that we had,” Musselman said. “Jaylin was not only great from a defensive standpoint, but then offensively, we really posted him up.”
Musselman said Williams’ post-up offense helped Arkansas’ 3-point defense.
“Any time you can post up, it slows down an opponent’s transition game as well, because when you take long shots they lead to long rebounds and the other team’s running the other way,” Musselman. said.
The Tide, particularly Alabama star forward Herbert Jones who fouled out, kept running into Williams taking charges.
“”If you look at the stat sheet, you’re not going to see everything that J-Will brings to the team,” Moody said. “He does all the dirty work, all the little things and that show with plus-minus ratios.”
Especially taking those charges which from practice and pickup games, Moody knows firsthand.
“That was me on the other end of all those charges,” Moody said. “I hated that dude right then, but now I love him. I love playing with him.”
Alabama star guards Jaden Shackelford and John Petty loved playing against Arkansas in Tuscaloosa scoring 17 and 16 points.
Not this time in Fayetteville. Shackelford amassed three fouls early in the first half and fouled out in 21 minutes with five points.
Petty scored 12 but got slapped with two technical fouls and was ejected, as was Tate with two Ts. Petty jawed not only with Tate but any striped shirt in his vicinity it seemed.
“I told the guys that I thought we had a lot of guys worrying about the officiating,” Oats said. “They have no control over the officiating. If you worry about stuff you can’t control, then you are not going to be very good about things you do have control over.”
This time it seemed the Hogs had it all under control.