It’s never good a sign when Mizzou basketball memories fade back to a certain game at Arkansas three decades ago.
In 1993, the Razorbacks opened Bud Walton Arena with a 52-point shellacking of Missouri to tip off a season that ended with Arkansas winning the national championship and the Tigers going undefeated in the Big Eight Conference.
A Final Four run might be far-fetched for this year’s Razorbacks team, but a similar Mizzou surge would seem most improbable after Wednesday’s blowout.
In a game the Razorbacks led by 34 points at halftime, Mizzou suffered an outcome that’s become all too familiar this season away from home. Any momentum the Tigers captured with Saturday’s upset of nationally ranked Alabama just four days earlier crumbled in Wednesday’s 87-43 defeat in Fayetteville.
It was MU’s most lopsided loss in coach Cuonzo Martin’s five seasons, eclipsing the 37-point debacle at Kansas on Dec. 11. The last time Mizzou lost by a wider margin came nearly seven years to the day, an 86-37 loss at Kentucky on Jan. 13, 2015.
“Tough night,” Martin said. “I think it’s safe to say I didn’t see that coming. But give (Arkansas) credit for playing well from start to finish. They had a different, unique lineup. … I think they were able to set a physical tone and we couldn’t recover from that. But didn’t see it coming.”
“They out-toughed us the whole night,” senior guard Javon Pickett said.
Mizzou’s start Wednesday was so bad, Arkansas could have gone scoreless the entire second half and still won by six points, thanks to a 49-15 halftime lead. Mizzou (7-8, 1-2 SEC) finished with far more turnovers (23) than field goals (14), turning the ball over on 31.7% of its possessions, the team’s worst turnover rate in three years. Martin got next-to-nothing off the bench as Arkansas’ reserves outscored Mizzou’s 32-2. The Hogs doubled Mizzou’s scoring in the paint (44-22), and the Tigers were back to clanking 3-pointers off the rim, shooting 2 of 16 from deep.
Add it up and a troubling trend resumed in Fayetteville: In true road games on their opponents’ home floor, the Tigers can barely function. They’ve now lost at Liberty by 21 points, at Kansas by 37, at Kentucky by 27 and at Arkansas by 44.
At least the Tigers are off the road for their next contest. From here, they host the SEC’s surprise team Saturday, Texas A&M, off to a 3-0 start in conference play and 14-2 overall.
Arkansas (11-5, 1-3), the SEC’s most disappointing team through the first few weeks of conference play, came into Wednesday’s game on a three-game losing streak with losses in five of its last six games. The Hogs certainly busted that slump Wednesday. The 44-point margin marked their second-most lopsided SEC victory since joining the league more than 30 years ago.
“Games like this don’t happen often,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “I can’t remember a league game in any league I’ve ever coached where a team played so well for 40 minutes.”
Unlike four days earlier when Missouri charged out of the locker room with strong starts to both halves against Alabama, then ranked No. 15, the Tigers were atrocious early and throughout the first half. By the game’s first media timeout, Arkansas’ JD Notae had tripled the Tigers’ points 9-3. That was just the start of the misery. Mizzou missed 12 of its first 13 shots from the field, went scoreless for nearly eight minutes after an early Trevon Brazile 3-pointer and trudged along for nearly nine minutes until the next field goal.
Surrounded by a bigger, more physical starting lineup, Arkansas point guard Notae, the SEC’s leading scorer when the night began, almost single-handedly blew the Tigers off the floor on both sides of the ball. No matter which point guard the Tigers tried — starter Boogie Coleman or freshmen Kaleb Brown and Anton Brookshire — Notae dominated with his relentless drives and shooting range. He finished with a game-high 19 points.
“I think the biggest thing, you could see it in the first seven minutes, Notae did a good job of pressuring Boogie Coleman up the floor,” Martin said. “He had him walking the ball up the floor, so now they could extend their defense. I’m not sure why he was walking it up. You have to give credit to Notae for the pressure. I think that was the biggest key. He did a good job of dictating the tempo, controlling the tempo, putting pressure on Boogie. Then it extended from Boogie to Kaleb and to Anton.”
By the end of the half, the Tigers had shot just 3 of 25 from the field and finished with nearly four times as many turnovers (11) as field goals. Forward Kobe Brown, the reigning SEC player of the week after his career-high 30-point game against the Crimson Tide, didn’t connect on his first field goal until more than 11 minutes came off the clock and finished with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting.
With 14 points at the break, Notae nearly outscored Martin’s entire team.
Wednesday’s game featured the SEC’s two worst 3-point shooting teams, and one team lived up to that billing through the first half. The Tigers shot just 1 of 11 from deep, while the Razorbacks were slightly better at 2 of 9 but punished Mizzou in the paint, outscoring Martin’s team 26-4 inside for the half. Arkansas blanked Mizzou in points off turnovers 16-0 and at one point ran off a 19-0 run before a couple DaJuan Gordon free throws ended Mizzou’s famine.
MU was back at full strength with all 12 scholarship players available — Brookshire and Amari Davis missed the Alabama game while in COVID protocol — but the added depth didn’t matter. Kobe Brown performed like a first-team All-SEC player on Saturday but never got comfortable against Arkansas’ smothering defense. He shot just 3 off 11 with three turnovers in 33 minutes.