FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ SEC winning streak and 2021 SEC Tournament tenure all ceased in Saturday’s SEC Tournament semifinals at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
The LSU Tigers defeated the Razorbacks, 78-71 Saturday snapping Arkansas’ 12-game winning streak over SEC foes including the last 11 games of the Hogs’ 13-4 second-place regular season and Friday night’s 70-64 SEC Tournament quarterfinals victory over the Missouri Tigers in Nashville.
Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, nationally ranked by the Associated Press and expecting a high seed at 22-6, Sunday afternoon await their NCAA Tournament pairing and seeding.
LSU, 18-8 and a third-seeded Friday night quarterfinal victor over Ole Missa, and SEC champion Alabama, victorious over Tennessee in Saturday’s semifinal after routing Mississippi State Friday, clash at noon in Sunday’s SEC Tournament championship game and also await their NCAA Tournament assignments as will SEC members Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and possibly on the bubble Ole Miss.
Expect the Razorbacks’ appreciation of their SEC winning streak and mood to elevate with their official NCAA at large invite Sunday afternoon but Saturday afternoon a disconsolate Musselman described himself as “Tomorrow I may think about that but I’m mad that we lost. We didn’t play well enough to win. I may feel better tomorrow but I’m not going to feel better tonight. I’m not thinking about what announcement there is tomorrow. I’m thinking about how can we get better after tonight.”
Turnovers, 11 in the second half after just five in the first half, and 11 of 19 free throw shooting and a second-half seven minutes without a field drought did Arkansas in Saturday, though the Hogs nearly overcame it all.
The Razorbacks rallied from down, 72-62 with 2:28 left cloys down 72-71 on a JD Notae assisted to Justin Smith fast break with 37 seconds left.
Eleven seconds later, with Musselman protesting that Arkansas guard Moses Moody had taken a charge, Javonte Smart put LSU up 74-71.
“I thought Moses did a good job sliding over,” Musselman said. “I give our guys credit playing to the very end, We cut that thing back to one with under a minute. But we just had some guys not play well at all.”
Notae, Arkansas’ off the bench hero off Friday against Mizzou scoring a game-high 27 points, turned it over which LSU substitute Eric Gaines (10 points and five rebounds) secured and got it to Smart and hit two free throws putting the game out of reach with Arkansas fouling again after a missed shot.
Forward Justin Smith, praised by Musselman for his 21 points and seven rebounds committing “a way too many” five turnovers himself, said Notae’s turnover “should not be magnified,” given enough Arkansas second-half miscues to share blame.
LSU Coach Will Wade played a hand in that switching from LSU’s first-half zone that Moody, shot the Tigers out of with 20 in the first half of his game high 28 points with nine rebounds, to a more aggressive defense that Arkansas tried to drive through.
“We drove the ball into traffic,” Musselman said. “We did a poor job taking care of the basketball. Give LSU a ton of credit for winning the game.”
The drives into traffic did attract LSU fouling.
Arkansas didn’t capitalize hitting just 11 of 19 freebies to LSU’s 13 of 15.
For the second consecutive game starting point guard Jalen Tate’s early foul trouble compelled sixth man combo guard Notae (nine points Saturday on 4 of 14 shots) to play as much point guard as Arkansas’ starter.
And for the second consecutive game, with top backup center Jaylin Williams still in covid protocol Saturday but on schedule to be cleared Sunday, starting center Connor Vanover was ineffective and replaced by rarely used 6-8 junior Ethan Henderson. Henderson responded against Mizzou with two dunks and two blocked shots in 8:37.
Saturday against LSU he logged four, seven rebounds, three blocked shots and an assist in 26 minutes.
“Ethan stepped up and gave us a lot of good minutes,” Smith said. “He made us more versatile. And getting Jailyn, (6-10, 245) back gives us a big man who can bang.”
Musselman also praised Henderson and said Williams will be welcomed.
“Not having Jaylin Williams, body wise when players are struggling that are in your rotation and you’re minus a body we just didn’t have enough gas in the tank back,” Musselman said. “ Jaylin will be back and changes the complexion of who we are. I thought Ethan played hard. He played his role and only had one turnover in 26 minutes. I thought our two freshmen Devo (Davis, the starting guard from Jacksonville with eight rebounds, six points, four steals and five assists vs. one turnover) played really well and Moses especially in the first half played really well. And Justin,… he was great other than the five turnovers, but some of those other guys have to play better in order for us to win.”
LSU, which during the season split with Arkansas beating the Hogs, 92-76 in Baton Rouge, La. and losing , 83-75 in Fayetteville, was led Saturday by 40-minute guards Cameron Thomas, 21 points, and Smart, 19, while forward Darius Days scored 13 with eight boards.
After scoring but five against Mizzou, Moody’s offense surged with 28 but now starts one last clean slate.
“We got to regroup and be ready for the NCAA championship because we don’t get any more do-overs,” Moody said.