Rocked by four straight Southeastern Conference defeats, No. 25 Arkansas is at the crossroads as it prepares to host Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Razorbacks (12-6, 1-5 SEC) lost for the fifth time in six games Wednesday night, dropping a 79-76 road decision to Missouri. The Tigers used a 10-0 second-half run to outscore Arkansas down the stretch, 22-9. That included draining all eight free throws in the last half-minute.
The setback was a tough one to stomach for coach Eric Musselman and his squad, which held a 10-point lead twice in the second half and seemed poised to sweep the season series from the Tigers.
The loss likely will knock the Razorbacks off their precarious perch as the final team in the AP Top 25. With Texas A&M winning its seventh straight game Wednesday, the Aggies could be justified in supplanting Arkansas in the rankings as one of the nation’s hottest squads.
Of greater concern to Musselman, however, were the four players who fouled out and the Tigers shooting 40 free throws to his team’s 26 — making 23.
“I’ve just never coached in a game where four players foul out and the opposition shoots 40 free throws. That’s 36 free throws, 36 free throws and 40 (against in the last three games),” Musselman said. “(We’re) just a basketball team that’s not figured out how to win down the stretch.”
The next two games are against programs equally battling struggles at 1-5 in the SEC’s basement — including next-up Ole Miss. LSU is on deck Tuesday night.
For Ole Miss (9-9) and coach Kermit Davis, they were finally able to break their SEC losing skid by winning at South Carolina 70-58 on Tuesday night.
Playing without electric point guard Daeshun Ruffin (illness) and forward Malique Ewin (personal), the Rebels received a strong offensive performance from top point producer Matthew Murrell.
Murrell is the only Ole Miss player averaging in double figures at 15.6 points per game. He knocked down 8 of 15 shots from the field against South Carolina, including a 5-for-11 showing from long range, for 23 points to go along with nine rebounds.
Senior forward Jayveous McKinnis scored 14 points and collected 10 boards as Ole Miss broke a six-game losing streak, but Murrell stole the show with his shooting exploits.
“Matthew Murrell I consider to be one of the best shooters in this whole league,” Davis said. “Tonight, this is just what Matt does. This season he’s still played well, he just hadn’t been making some shots that he normally makes, and tonight he delivered.”
On the defensive end, the visitors held the Gamecocks to 22-of-60 shooting (36.7 percent) and owned a 43-31 advantage on the boards.
“It’s like a lot of leagues where we’re sitting here thinking we can be right in the middle of it and we’re not,” Davis said of his squad. “We really needed a road win tonight so I was proud of our players.”
Arkansas has won four straight matchups vs. Ole Miss and been victorious in 10 of the past 13.
–Field Level Media