FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A sloppy second half nearly doomed the Arkansas basketball team Saturday against Georgia, but the Hogs (12-11, 3-7SEC) found a way to grind out their third conference victory of the season.
The Bulldogs (14-10, 4-7) erased a 10-point second half deficit thanks to a 1-3-1 zone defense and the Razorbacks trailed with less than two minutes remaining, but a clutch pass from Davonte Davis to a wide-open Makhi Mitchell for an easy layup with 54 seconds on the clock gave Arkansas a lead it would not relinquish.
Davis, who made his return to the program Saturday, also made a key free throw that gave Arkansas a three-point lead later on inside the final minute.
Here are three observations from the Arkansas’ win.
Arkansas basketball goes small
The Razorbacks started the game with four guards, and outside of a brief stretch midway through the first half, Eric Musselman stuck with a smaller lineup. The decision paid off.
Arkansas trailed 19-15 with 9:18 in the first half when Musselman sent Tramon Mark in to replace center Makhi Mitchell. The Hogs closed the half on a 19-10 run, hanging tough on the boards despite the lack of size.
El Ellis, Keyon Menifield Jr., Davis and Mark played the entire stretch, with Mitchell and Jalen Graham sharing duties as the lone center. That four-guard combination also played a majority of the second half.
Ellis went from logging zero minutes in two-straight games to playing a key role against Georgia, scoring 15 points to go with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. He also made a massive corner three-pointer with 1:42 remaining to give Arkansas a 72-70 lead.
It’s been an inconsistent season for the Louisville transfer, but Saturday was a positive. Ellis made shots, crashed the glass and only committed one turnover. Menifield also scored 15 points, while Mark had 13. Graham and Mitchell combined for 25 points and 8 rebounds.
But for all the good from this four-guard lineup, it struggled to take care of the ball against Georgia’s zone. The Hogs survived despite committing 8 sloppy second-half turnovers. Thankfully, most of those giveaways were not in a live-ball setting that allowed Georgia to get out in transition.
Three-point defense makes massive turnaround
Opposing teams had shot 47% from three in Arkansas’ last five games. Musselman has bemoaned the three-point defense all season, but the Hogs corralled Georgia from deep on Saturday.
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The Bulldogs missed their first 11 shots from long-range and finished the evening shooting just 22% on threes. Georgia made a few key deep shots in the closing minutes, but the overall defensive improvement played a massive difference.
Hogs flip the script on turnovers
Giveaways were a huge issue in the Razorbacks’ loss to Georgia earlier this season, with the Bulldogs scoring 25 points off 15 Arkansas turnovers.
But it was Arkansas who caused the havoc on Saturday, scoring 21 points off 14 Georgia turnovers. The guard-heavy lineup injected some added speed and helped preventing dribble penetration.