It was a helluva run for the Arkansas Razorbacks in the second half of their 2020-21 season, but it came to an end in the NCAA tournament Elite Eight on Monday as the No. 3 seed Hogs fell to No. 1 seed Baylor, 81-72, in the South Region finals inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, sending Arkansas home after the Hogs missed on the program’s first Final Four in 26 years and its 7th in program history.
In a game that saw both teams enjoy a sizzling-hot shooting first half followed by a mostly grind-game second half, it was turnovers that wrote the final chapter to the Hogs’ season as Baylor’s quickness and defensive know-how owned the turnover battle (15-9) and points-off-turnovers (21-6) en route to reaching the program’s first Final Four since 1950. For Arkansas, which trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half, it could get no closer than 4 points, 64-60, at the 7:54 mark before the Bears ran away with a 17-12 game-closing run for their final 9-point winning margin. The Hogs had overcome double-digit deficits in winning their first three NCAAT games, but the climb was too steep against a Baylor team that had dropped only two games all season.
The 10th-ranked Hogs (25-7) defeated Colgate, 21st-ranked Texas Tech, and Oral Roberts in the first three rounds of the South Region of the NCAA tournament, and Monday’s regional finals loss against 3rd-ranked Baylor means the Hogs finished their season having won 16 of their last 19 games while advancing to the program’s first Elite Eight in 26 years (’94-95). That ’94-95 season was also the last Arkansas team to enter the NCAAT ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 (at No. 6) prior to the current Hogs doing the same (at No. 10), and it was the last time the Hogs made it to the Final Four.
As the No. 1 seed in the South Region, Baylor (26-2) had beaten 16-seed Hartford, 9-seed Wisconsin, and 5-seed Villanova all by double-digit margins while advancing to the Elite Eight, and with their Monday win over Arkansas the Bears advance to the Final Four next weekend when they’ll take on the Houston Cougars (28-3), who as a No. 2 seed won the Midwest Region finals against No. 12 seed Oregon State, 67-61, on Monday. Baylor improved to 10-2 in games played against ranked teams in ’20-21, which now includes a 6-2 record against Top 10-ranked teams.
Arkansas dropped to 0-10 all-time against NCAAT No. 1 seeds, and it fell to 3-4 in games against ranked opponents in ’20-21, which includes a final 2-1 record against Top 10-ranked teams. The Razorbacks slipped to 45-33 all-time in NCAAT games, which includes a 4-2 record as a 3-seed in the NCAAT (’91-92 Hogs were 1-1). Arkansas finished the season 9-6 in away games on the season (includes a 4-2 record in neutral-site games).
In his second campaign as Head Hog, Eric Musselman is now 3-1 in NCAAT games at Arkansas, he’s 9-2 coaching a ranked Arkansas team, and he’s 45-19 overall at Arkansas. In his sixth season as a college head coach, Musselman has reached the Sweet 16 (at Nevada in ’17-18) and the Elite Eight (at Arkansas in ’20-21). His overall record in the NCAAT is 5-4.
“I think that all of us are really proud of the season we had,” Musselman said after the game. “We got scorching hot at the right time to end the season. We played with confidence. We were a basketball team that got better every day … It was a great season.
“We don’t really know the impact because we’ve been in a bubble, in a controlled environment in a hotel for a very long time. I think the impact of what this team has accomplished this year, I think all of us will start feeling it once we get back to normalcy.”
Arkansas was led in scoring by freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis (14 points to go with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal) and junior guard JD Notae (14 points in 15 minutes on the floor before fouling out with 13:38 remaining in the game). Senior combo guard Jalen Tate finished with 13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 6 turnovers. Freshman guard Moses Moody contributed 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 assist. Senior combo forward Justin Smith had 10 points 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Freshman big man Jaylin Williams had 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 block. Junior guard Desi Sills chipped in 2 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, adn 1 steal.
The Hogs shot 26-of-54 from the field (48.1%), including 3-of-11 from 3 (27.3%) as they missed all 7 of their attempts from distance in the second half. Arkansas was 17-of-23 from the free throw line (73.9%). Baylor was 30-of-62 on field goals (48.4%), including an impressive 8-of-15 from 3 (53.3%) as the Bears came in as the nation’s best three-point shooting team by percentage (40.8%). Baylor made 13-of-17 from the free throw line (76.5%).
Arkansas won the rebounding battle (34-29) but was only plus-1 in second-chance-points (11-10). The Hogs were plus-4 both in points-in-the-paint (40-36) and fastbreak points (15-11). Baylor’s bench outscored Arkansas’ (25-16), and the Bears hit their season-average in steals (9) which ranks Top 10 in the nation.
Senior guard Macio Teague led Baylor with 22 points (8-of-18 field goals, including 3-of-7 from 3) and 5 rebounds. All American junior guard Jared Butler finished with 14 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals. Junior guard Davion Mitchell finished with 12 points and 6 assists. Sophomore guard Adam Flagler contributed 10 points, 4 steals, and 3 assists off the bench.
Musselman started Moody, Davis, Williams, Smith, and Tate for the third consecutive game.
Baylor’s savvy, skill, and collective quickness on both sides of the ball allowed the Bears to jump all over the Hogs early as they made 15 of their first 21 shot attempts while along the way building leads of 15-3, 29-11, and 33-16 before Arkansas began chipping away. The Hogs closed the half outscoring the Bears 27-17 to pull within 46-38 at the break.
Notae led the Hogs with 12 first-half points while Tate had 9 with 4 turnovers. Williams chipped in 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 drawn charge in the first 20 minutes, while Smith had 6 points, 3 assists, 2 steals, but only 1 rebound.
Arkansas started slow but picked up the pace with Notae and Sills playing off the bench as the Hogs shot 15-of-24 from the field (62.5%), including 3-of-4 from 3 (75%), but they were only 5-of-10 from the free throw line. Baylor made 18-of-32 from the field (56.3%), including 4-of-7 from 3 (57.1%), and 6-of-7 from the foul line (85.7%).
The Bears won the first-half turnover battle (10-6) and points-off-turnovers (14-6). Each team had 13 rebounds, each scored 5 second-chance-points, and each scored 20 points in the paint. Arkansas had a 7-6 advantage in fastbreak points.