In a game that both sides desperately needed to win, Arkansas put forth a dominant wire-to-wire performance in a 91-84 win at Mizzou Arena on Wednesday.
Tamar Bates led the way for Missouri, scoring 29 points and recording a whopping five steals. He poured in 23 of those points during a furious second-half effort.
But, with Arkansas missing the services of the recently departed Davonte Davis and injured forward Trevon Brazile, other players stepped up for Eric Musselman’s bunch. Makhi Mitchell, Keyon Menifield Jr. and Jalen Graham combined to score 48 points, and leading scorer Tramon Mark picked up his play in the second half to add on 22.
Mizzou faced a similar issue, as Caleb Grill, Trent Pierce, Jesus Carralero-Martin, John Tonje and Kaleb Brown were all unavailable in this one. While some of those players had been out for longer periods of time, the effect of not having five contributors on the floor was evident. Arkansas, conversely, received 35 points from its bench mob.
Paint points became the story of this game rather quickly. The Razorbacks out-scored the Tigers’ 56 in that category, which led to them only attempting six 3-pointers due to the easy looks they received around the rim.
On top of that, Dennis Gates’ prized assist-to-turnover ratio was the worst it had been all season. Mizzou finished with a 13-to-18 mark in that category.
With all of the emotions, pressure and energy surrounding this game, Arkansas handled the adversity that comes with that far better than Mizzou did in this one. The Tigers took a 2-0 lead early on, but that was the only time in which the home side would lead in this game.
“We came out flat to begin the game, and I take full responsibility for that as head coach,” Gates said. “We cannot come out that flat regardless of what I have to do. I apologize to our crowd for our performance.”
The Razorbacks shot 19-for-34 in the opening half, seemingly getting any shot they wanted on the offensive end. But, with Brazile and Davis not playing in this game, the scoring didn’t come from the usual suspects.
Mitchell and Menifield Jr. came into Wednesday’s game averaging a combined 13 points per game. They eclipsed that mark in just the first half with 23, as Menifield was able to penetrate into the paint with ease and Mitchell was a dominant presence on the glass, reeling in eight rebounds (three of which were offensive).
“He [Mitchell] controlled the offensive glass,” Gates said.
Mizzou had no response throughout the first half. Bates and Sean East II were the reliable night-in and night-out scorers for this team, but the duo shot a combined 3-for-12 from the floor during the game’s opening frame. Connor Vanover, for the first time this season, led the team in scoring at halftime as a result.
The Razorbacks’ ability to break down the Tiger defense—whether it was man or zone—led to them racking up a whopping 30 paint points to Mizzou’s eight. Sloppy play on the offensive end (nine turnovers, nine made buckets) capped off perhaps the worst half of basketball that the Tigers had played all season.
“We lost a good amount of the 50/50 balls,” Bates said. “That just led to them clinging to that lead and it’s hard to recover from that.”
Bates did his best to single-handedly will Mizzou back into the game in the second half. He poured in 26 points, scoring on fast breaks, 3-point shots and everything in between.
Unfortunately, Arkansas remained hot from the floor, shooting it at a 48.3% clip in the second half and nearly matching the 47 points it scored in the second half. On top of that, no other Tiger scored more than 10 in the game’s final frame, and despite his best efforts, Bates couldn’t do it all on his own.
Mizzou cut the Arkansas lead to 71-58 at the 8:14 mark, and after the Hogs weathered that storm, the Tigers again rallied to make it an 11-point game with just over four minutes remaining. But, Mark showed up when his team needed him most, hitting a jumper and a pair of free throws to effectively ice the game.
“We have to be participants in our own rescue,” Gates said. “No one is going to feel sorry or have empathy for us because we haven’t won a conference game. We have to put 40 minutes of basketball together consistently.”
The Tigers will next head to Nashville for their lone meeting with Vanderbilt (5-14, 0-7) on Feb. 3. The game will take place at 2:30 CST and can be seen on the SEC Network.