Mitchell, Graham play pivotal roles in Razorbacks’ victory

Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell (15) high-fives a teamate, Saturday, February 10, 2024 during the second half of a basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for today's photo gallery...(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas forward Makhi Mitchell (15) high-fives a teamate, Saturday, February 10, 2024 during the second half of a basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for today's photo gallery...(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE — Georgia took the lead or tied the score against the University of Arkansas men’s basketball team six times in the final 5:18 of last Saturday’s game in Walton Arena.

Six times 6-10 senior Makhi Mitchell helped the Razorbacks answer and win 78-75 with either his defense, shooting in the paint and at the free throw line or his passing.

Mitchell helped account for 15 of Arkansas’ final 19 points. He scored 10 points in that stretch, but started his closing run by blocking a layup attempt by Noah Thomasson.

The block led to a fast-break opportunity that Tramon Mark closed with a short jumper to put the Razorbacks ahead 61-59 with 5:36 left.

At the 5:00 mark, Mitchell hit a layup with an assist from El Ellis for a 63-61 Arkansas lead.

Mitchell hit two free throws with 4:14 left put the Razorbacks ahead 65-63.

After a steal by Ellis and with an assist from Mark, Mitchell scored on a fast-break layup for a 69-68 Arkansas lead with 2:26 left.

Ellis hit a three-pointer and Mitchell got the assist with 1:42 to as the Razorbacks regained the advantage 72-70.

Arkansas finally got the lead for good, 74-72, when Mitchell scored inside with an assist from Davonte “Devo” Davis with 54 seconds left.

Mitchell hit two more free throws with 9 seconds left to push the lead to 77-72.

Playing 25 minutes off the bench, Mitchell finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. He hit 4 of 6 shots and 6 of 8 free throws.

While Mitchell helped finish off Georgia, 6-10 senior Jalen Graham’s play was key in Arkansas leading 34-29 at halftime.

Graham scored 10 of his 11 points in the first half off the bench. Playing 14 minutes for the game, he hit 4 of 7 shots, 3 of 6 free throws and had 3 rebounds.

Led by Mitchell and Graham inside, Arkansas out-scored Georgia 44-20 in bench points, had 40 points in the paint and out-rebounded the Bulldogs 28-27.

“Those two can really score the ball inside and they can really pass the ball as well,” Ellis, who scored 15 points, said on the Razorback Sports Network postgame radio show. “I know Khi got me a couple of pull-ups.

“Just having those two scoring at a high level, rebounding, protecting the rim, it’s opening everything up for everyone else.”

Given more playing time and with Arkansas emphasizing scoring in the paint — “Zone One” as Musselman and the players call it — Mitchell and Graham have become a formidable tandem the last four games against Kentucky, Missouri, LSU and Georgia.

Mitchell is averaging 13.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.8 blocked shots in 31 minutes over that span. He’s hit 17 of 28 shots and 21 of 26 free throws.

Graham is averaging 12.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 22 minutes. He has hit 22 of 39 shots and 6 of 11 free throws.

Against Georgia, Mitchell or Graham primarily played as the Razorbacks’ big man with four guards, but in other recent games they’ve played well off each other inside.

Graham had assists on two of Mitchell’s baskets Arkansas’ 91-84 victory at Missouri.

When LSU beat the Razorbacks 76-54, Mitchell had assists on two of Graham’s baskets and got a dunk with an assist from Graham.

“They’ve been playing great,” Mark said. “I love the little two-man game they have going, where they’re just going to work down in the paint.

“Seeing Makhi’s man helping off and Jalen dump it off to him just gives us easy buckets and I want to see them keep doing that. Easy buckets for us.”

Musselman praised Mitchell for his ability to get to the free throw line the last four games with an average of 6.5 attempts.

“If you look at those four-game segments, there’s a lot of free throws attempted in there,” Musselman said. “So drawing fouls, being able to convert your foul shots, finishing around the rim, he’s done a good job of that.”

The Razorbacks hit 5 of 14 three-pointers in their victory over Georgia after going 3 of 21 when the Bulldogs’ won 76-66 at home on Jan. 10.

“Zone One scoring was a huge emphasis,” Musselman said of the rematch. “We didn’t want to settle for threes like we did in Athens.

“A big part of that is trying to throw the ball into Jalen and trying to throw the ball into Khi. From a productivity standpoint, when we did get it into them, I thought they both were really good.”

Mitchell had a season-high 19 points and 14 rebounds at Missouri, where Graham had a season-high 4 assists. Graham had a season-high 18 points at LSU.

“They’ve been not only scoring, but their interior big-to-big passing has been impressive,” Musselman said on his radio show last week. “They’re probably moving the ball as well as anybody from a big-to-big standpoint.

“It’s not often you see a four and a five playing off each other with the pass. They’ve been really good at it. That just means you’re going to have to play through those guys if they’re playing unselfish and looking to get teammates involved.”

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