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The No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks pulled off a thrilling comeback over the No. 17 San Diego State Aztecs to secure third place of the Maui Invitational on Wednesday at the Lahaina Civic Center.
After being down by 13 points at one point in the first half, the Hogs battled back behind second half energy from Kamani Johnson and improved offense from Ricky Council IV and Trevon Brazile.
HawgBeat has you covered with takeaways, quotes, notes, stats and more from Arkansas’ fifth win of the season:
Kamani Johnson was ready for his name to be called
The redshirt senior forward hadn’t seen the court at all during the Maui Invitational until he checked in with 14:25 to go in the second half. Arkansas’ comeback against the Aztecs can be heavily attributed to Johnson’s play.
“We thought somebody off the bench that maybe hadn’t played last night could have an impact and obviously Kamani Johnson was absolutely incredible the last 19 minutes of the game,” head coach Eric Musselman said.
Not only did he come up with the follow shot at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime, but he had a huge offensive rebound and layup to put the Hogs up 75-72 in overtime. He also grabbed a tough defensive board with 3.7 seconds left, drew a foul and drained both shots to make it a two possession game and seal the win for the Hogs.
If that wasn’t enough, Johnson stole the inbounds pass from the Aztecs right after and put an end to his incredible 19 minutes of play.
Johnson’s +/- of 10 was the second highest on the team on Wednesday night.
“We got down by 10 and coach put me in and I was ready for the moment,” Johnson said on the Arkansas postgame radio show. “I feel like I’m one of the leaders on the team and I had to show them how to fight.”
The former Little Rock Trojan finished with seven points and seven rebounds, and it was his energy that seemed to spark the team in the second half.
“I’m always prepared, stay ready, stay in the moment,” Johnson said. “That’s what Coach (Keith) Smart and Ronnie (Brewer) have been preaching. So whenever my number’s called, I’m always going to be ready.”
Johnson was ready when the ball fell into his hands with time ticking at the end of regulation. He put the ball back up and it fell through to give the team an extra five minutes, in the form of an overtime period, to get a win.
“Coach, he told me I’m one of the best offensive rebounders in the nation, so I told the guys, ‘Whatever you do, just make sure there’s a little bit of time left on the clock before you shoot just so I can get an offensive rebound,'” Johnson said. “They attacked it and they didn’t put a body out on me, but I might have cleared some space out, too.”
Offensive adversity hits early
The Hogs struggled to find any type of rhythm on offense through the first 20 minutes of the game.
After a Trevon Brazile layup with 11:22 put the Razorbacks up 15-14, they didn’t hit a field goal again until Anthony Black made a layup with 4:23 left in the first half — ending a 6:59 scoring drought.
Arkansas had a period of just over six minutes in the first half where it shot 1-11 from the field. The Hogs were 0-8 from deep and 9-22 from the field. An alley oop from Makhel Mitchell and a jumper from Davonte Davis made it a nine-point game at the break, but the Hogs were lucky to have it that close.
The only offense for Arkansas came from Black, who had a pair of fouls by the 10:00 mark. When he was on the court, the Hogs had at least some semblance of offense. But when he was on the bench, things looked rough.
Arkansas was also sloppy with the ball, giving it up 10 times, allowing the Aztecs to score eight points off turnovers. The Hogs’ leading scorer on the season, Ricky Council IV, had just one point in the first half.
“I thought in the first half we just, it looked like we didn’t have the energy that we normally play with,” Musselman said. “San Diego State was a team coming into the tournament that we felt with their veterans and how well coached they are, and I thought in the first half it looked like they were a team that kind of knew their roles a little bit more. We’re still trying to figure out who we are.”
Brazile and Council provide life in second half
The pair combined for just three points in the first half, and though the rest of Arkansas’ offense was struggling, Brazile and Council have to be shooting well for the team to have a shot.
That message must’ve been shared by Musselman during halftime, because Brazile and Council balled out in the second half.
Brazile was 4-7 from the field and 3-4 from three in the second half, scoring 16 points and adding five rebounds. Council scored 13 points and had four assists.
Council began to run the point, taking some of the pressure off Black. He was able to drive to the bucket, and while he still missed seven shots, he made the defense play on their toes more.
With Council presenting the threat of driving inside, Brazile was able to step out and hit his three deep shots. He was also 5-6 from the free throw line, and those shots proved to be pivotal.
“It was big,” Brazile said. “The main thing I was just trying to be a leader on the court. I know my teammates needed me. So just playing hard, keeping us together, had a good come out.”
Brazile also made a huge play by falling on a loose ball late in the second half. That play gave the Hogs the opportunity to have possession, which led to the follow by Johnson that sent it to overtime.
The Missouri transfer said he was surprised San Diego State’s Lamont Butler didn’t call a timeout rather than inbounding the ball.
“I’m a little surprised he didn’t call timeout,” Brazile said. “He was in a bad situation. He was fumbling the ball. I’m surprised his coach didn’t call a timeout. He didn’t call a timeout. We got the ball. Kamani made a big play, and then went from there.”
NBA-style game favors the Hogs
Musselman said after the game that his team did just enough to stick around throughout the game. The former NBA head coach compared it to the feel of an NBA game.
“They controlled the game for most of the game,” Musselman said. “We did just enough to hang around. It’s not often that a game kind of has a NBA feel how it ended. But that’s how a lot of NBA games kind of end.”
After leading 15-14 with 11:22 to go in the first half, the Hogs didn’t have the lead again until 17 seconds into the overtime period. During that span, they tied the game up three times, all of which came in the final four minutes of the second half.
“You just keep talking to your team about hang around, hang around,” Musselman said. “Eventually you try to get two or three stops in a row.”
Three games in three days can take a toll on players, and it looked like the Razorbacks had dead legs at times. Musselman said they ran plays they haven’t practiced because they were having to go with different lineups.
“We ran some plays that we have not practiced at all, that elbow pick-and-roll, because we had some personnel in the game that we had not had, that there was that group that had never played together,” Musselman said.
After playing just a seven-man rotation against Creighton the night before, Musselman had nine different players see significant play time against the Aztecs.
Following back-to-back 26-point performances, Black came back down to earth a little bit. He recorded 15 points, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and a team-high four turnovers in 39 minutes.
Jordan Walsh played 34 minutes and recorded seven points, five rebounds, two assists and a block. Three of his rebounds came on the offensive boards.
Barry Dunning saw action in the first half when the Hogs needed someone to try and get something going. He played just eight minutes in the game, but they were quality for the most part. He had a turnover and a steal, but the Hogs were plus-2 with him on the court.
The other three freshmen — Nick Smith Jr. (right knee management), Joseph Pinion and Derrian Ford — did not see the court.
Apparently a San Diego State fan was not pleased with Musselman and the Hogs following the game. Musselman said the fan came down and said some things and words were exchanged.
From the look of this video, the fan (in white) wanted more than just an exchange of words:
One fan who was in attendance shared some details via Twitter:
~ After playing 17 minutes in the first half, Davonte Davis did not see the court again for the rest of the game. Chuck Barrett said on the Arkansas radio broadcast that it was a “coaches decision” to not play Davis.
~ Once again Trevon Brazile was the first player off the bench for the Hogs, replacing Jordan Walsh.
~ 2022 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Nathan Mensah had two fouls by the 17:16 mark in the first half. He ended up fouling out with 3:48 left in the second half
~ Barry Dunning checked in at the 5:44 mark, the earliest action he’s seen this season.
~ Anthony Black was named to the 2022 Maui Jim Maui Invitational All-Tournament Team. He led the event with 22.3 points per game.
The next time the Hogs hit the hardwood will be on Monday against the Troy Trojans at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. That game will tipoff at 7 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
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