FAYETTEVILLE – Off what Eric Musselman no doubt hopes will be the worst 14 minutes of a first half the Razorbacks ever endure as he coaches them, Arkansas eventually fell, 92-76 to the LSU Tigers in Wednesday night’s SEC game at LSU’s Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La.
Seldom defending, seldom scoring, and with 11 first-half turnovers seldom even maintaining the ball, the Razorbacks trailed 44-13 at 6:10 of the first half.
To their credit, Razorbacks did make a late first-half run cutting the intermission lead to 51-31.
They only committed four second half turnovers. And they did finish with Hogs JD Notae, Moses Moody and Desi Sills scoring 23, 18 and 14 points.
No consolation, that, to Musselman off his Razorbacks following their best game, last Saturday’s 99-69 rout of Georgia at Walton Arena, with their Wednesday worst.
The loss drops Arkansas to 10-3 overall, 2-3 in the SEC heading into Saturday afternoon’s game at SEC leader Alabama, 5-0 in the league, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Coach Will Wade’s Tigers improved to 9-2, 4-1 with great play from themselves and, in Musselman’s view, too much help from the Hogs.
Had not Wade used the lopsided contest to extend his not very deep bench, LSU’s starting five would have posted an even bigger banner night. It certainly proved big enough.
Forwards Trendon Watford, 23 points/10 rebounds, and Darius Days, 18 points and 13 rebounds, both double-doubled.
“We had zero answers for them,” Musselman said. “Zero.”
Freshman guard Cameron Thomas, the leading SEC scorer but coming off a sprained ankle, tallied 17points . Smart scored 13.
Freshman Mwani Wilkinson, LSU’s often forgotten swingman starter, hit double scoring figures with 11 points and added five boards.
“LSU came out ready from the jump,” Musselman said. “I thought LSU was more physical and tougher. I thought we had guys trying to do things that are not characteristic of them. We have guys that are defenders and rebounders at their position and they went out and tried to score. Just an overall poor performance.”
The poorest into his second season at Arkansas and ranking with just one during his four previous years head coaching the University of Nevada.
“Maybe one other time in six years have I ever had a team not play with great intensity,” Musselman said. “At New Mexico when we (Nevada) were ranked… We were undefeated and ranked in the top 10, so a little bit different than this.”
So different that the Notae, Moody, though he would subsequently praise Moody and freshman reserve forward Jaylin Williams, and Sills points meant little to him postgame.
He talked more of Devo Davis and Vance Jackson, 20 and 15 points standouts also playing well defensively against Georgia, shooting 1 for 11 and 1 for 8 against LSU.
“I mean, really it’s hard to win when you got a guy go 1 of 8 and a guy go 1 of 11,” Musselman said. “It’s the same story as when we played Missouri (an 81-68 loss that was Arkansas’ poorest played until this one). If your shots aren’t falling, you’ve got to have better shot selection.”
Yeah, but what about Notae’s 14 first-half points sparking that late first-half rally?
“JD, he can score the ball, but he’s got to defend,” Musselman said. “He’s got to move the ball more. Tonight, offensively there was a lot of shallow, hollow, whatever word you want to use, stats.”
Point guards Jalen Tate and combo guard Notae, on the point when Tate wasn’t, combined for two assists vs. seven turnovers.
LSU point guard Javonte Smart’s five assists were only three off what Arkansas totaled as a team.
“We had eight assists,” Musselman said. “We didn’t have good very good point guard play at all. And quite frankly I thought our defense was just as bad. One through five LSU beat us off the dribble.”
Only freshman forward Williams, 10 rebounds, seven points, two steals and a blocked shot, and freshman off guard Moody earned Musselman praise.
“I think Jaylin Williams and Moses put forth effort,” Musselman said. “And other than that I think LSU out-competed us.”
In most games seldom if ever calling timeouts, Musselman spent all he had for the first half and used his last available with 12:53 left in the game.
“I would’ve called three more or five more or 10 more if I would’ve had more,” Musselman said.