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The No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks staged a thrilling comeback over the No. 17 San Diego State Aztecs to secure third place at Wednesday’s Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center.
After trailing by 13 points in the first half, the Hogs fought back behind Kamani Johnson’s energy in the second half and improved on the offense of 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 to call his name
The redshirt senior forward hadn’t seen the track at all during the Maui Invitational until he reported with 14:25 left in the second half. Arkansas’ comeback against the Aztecs can be strongly credited to Johnson’s play.
“We thought someone off the bench who might not have played last night might have an impact and of course 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 next shot at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime, but he also had a massive offensive rebound and layup to take the Hogs 75-72 into overtime. He also grabbed a solid defensive backboard with 3.7 seconds remaining, committed a foul and cleared both shots to make it a two-possession game and seal the win for the Hogs.
As if that wasn’t enough, Johnson stole the Aztecs’ inbound pass right after, ending his incredible 19 minutes of play.
Johnson’s +/- of 10 was the team’s second highest on Wednesday night.
“We were down by 10 and the coach put me in and I was ready for the moment,” Johnson said on the radio show after the Arkansas game. “I feel like I’m one of the leaders of 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 fuel 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) preached. So when my number gets called, I’m always there.”
Johnson was ready when the ball fell into his hands and time ticked down 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 extra time, to win.
“Coach, he told me I’m one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, so I told the guys, ‘Whatever you do, make sure you have some time before you shoot so I can get an offensive rebound,” Johnson said. “They attacked it and they didn’t put a body on me, but I might have cleared some space as well.”
Offensive adversity strikes early
The Hogs struggled to find any rhythm on offense for 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 another field goal until Anthony Black laid up with 4:23 left in the first half – ending an score of 6:59.
Arkansas had a period of just over six minutes in the first half where it shot in 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 halftime, but the Hogs were lucky to have it so close.
The only offense for Arkansas came from Black, who made a few fouls at 10:00. When he was on the field, the Hogs had at least a semblance of offense. But when he sat on the couch, it looked rough.
Arkansas was also sloppy with the ball, giving it up 10 times, allowing the Aztecs to score eight points on turnover. The Hogs’ leading scorer for the season, Ricky Council IV, had just one run in the first half.
“I thought in the first half it looked like we didn’t have the energy we normally play with,” said Musselman. “San Diego State was a team coming into the tournament that we felt with their veterans and how well they’ve been coached, and I thought in the first half it seemed like they were a team that knew their role a little bit better. We’ We’re still trying to figure out who we are.’
Brazile and Council provide life in the second half
The pair only scored three points in the first half, and while the rest of the Arkansas offense struggled, Brazile and Council need to shoot well to give the team a chance.
Musselman must have shared that message during the break, because Brazile and Council blew up 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.
The Council began to set the point and took some of the pressure off Black. He was able to drive to the bucket, and while he still missed seven shots, he let the defense play more on their toes.
With Council presenting the threat to drive in, Brazile was able to get out and hit his three deep shots. He was also 5-6 from the free throw line and those shots proved crucial.
“It was big,” Brazile said. “The most important thing was just trying to be a leader on the pitch. I know my teammates needed me. So just playing hard, keeping us together had a good outcome.”
Brazile also made a huge move by falling on a loose ball late in the second half. That play gave the Hogs a chance to have possession, leading to Johnson’s follow-up sending it to overtime.
The Missouri transfer said he was surprised San Diego State’s Lamont Butler didn’t call a timeout instead of playing the ball in.
“I’m a little surprised he didn’t call a time-out,” said Brazile. “He was in a bad situation. He messed with the ball. I’m surprised his coach didn’t call a time-out. He didn’t call a time-out. We got the ball. Kamani made a big move and then went from there.”
NBA style play favors the Hogs
Musselman said after the game that his team did just enough to last the entire 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’ve done just enough to hang out. It’s not often a game has an NBA feel to how it ended. But that’s how a lot of NBA games end.”
After leading 15-14 with 11:22 left in the first half, the Hogs didn’t regain the lead until 17 seconds into overtime. During that span, they tied the game three times, all in the last four minutes of the second half.
“You keep talking to your team about hanging out, hanging out,” 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 seemed the Razorbacks had dead legs at times. Musselman said they played plays they hadn’t practiced because they had to play with different setups.
“We did some plays that we didn’t practice at all, that elbow pick-and-roll, because we had some personnel in the game that we didn’t have, that there was a group that had never played together,” Musselman said .
After playing just a seven-man rotation against Creighton the night before, Musselman showed nine different players significant playing time against the Aztecs.
After back-to-back 26-point performances, Black came back a bit with both feet on the ground. 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 hit the offensive boards.
Barry Dunning saw action in the first half when the Hogs needed someone to get things going. He only played eight minutes in the game, but they were mostly quality. He had a turnover and a bargain, but the Hogs were plus-2 with him on the field.
The other three freshmen – Nick Smith Jr. (managing right knee), Joseph Pinion and Derrian Ford – did not see court.
Scuffle after the game
Apparently, a San Diego State fan wasn’t happy that Musselman and the Hogs were watching the game. Musselman said the fan came down and said some things and words were exchanged.
Looks like the fan (in white) wanted more than just an altercation:
A fan in attendance shared some details via Twitter:
~ After 17 minutes of play in the first half, Davonte Davis didn’t see the court for the rest of the game. Chuck Barrett said on the Arkansas radio broadcast that it was a “coach’s decision” not to 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 made two fouls in the first half at 17:16. He ended on a foul out with 3:48 left in the second half
~ Barry Dunning checked in at 5:44, the first 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 is on Monday against the Troy Trojans at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. That game kicks off at 7 p.m. CT and airs on the SEC network.
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