OPINION — Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: Razorbacks won ugly with effort, defense

In 1971 there was a mildly acclaimed movie, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," about two mafia families at war. It starred, among others, Robert De Niro.

It wasn't filmed in College Station, Texas, in fact, it was about New York and while Texas A&M played like it could have starred in it during its 78-71 home loss to Arkansas on Tuesday night, it was more about the Razorbacks' defense than the Aggies' offense.

Makhi Mitchell was the difference-maker. He blocked four shots and contested many more and when the final buzzer sounded, the Arkansas Razorbacks had swept the Aggies and picked up a critical stretch run victory.

It was like a mildly-acclaimed game that went the way of the team that played the best defense, hustled the most and busted its behind for 40 minutes.

That's straight out of Eric Musselman's playbook, the Revelations of winning basketball.

Mitchell finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 assists.

The grand finale was Tramon Mark scoring 22 second-half points, but the bottom line in Arkansas picking up its fourth SEC win was its defense.

At one point in the second half, the Aggies were 1 of 16 from the floor.

Nothing was working for them because of the Razorbacks' tenacious defense as they were protecting the paint. With three other Hogs accounting for another four blocks, the Aggies took one on the chin that might knock them out of the NCAA Tournament.

They came into the game ranked No. 45 in the NCAA NET, but losing at home to the No. 136-ranked Hogs could take them out for the count.

The Razorbacks couldn't have gotten the Aggies to play more into their hands if they had begged and pleaded. The game was sloppy and ugly. A&M traded composure for confusion and that's how the Razorbacks need teams to play.

OK, it wasn't ugly for Mitchell, who came off the bench and whose offensive and defensive presence is going to throw him onto some NBA scouts' radar.

Mitchell blocked shots and changed others and the home team struggled as the Razorbacks went on a 10-0 run with Khalif Battle getting shots inside and out. The Hogs went into the half leading 35-31 and it seemed like more.

The last time these teams met on Jan. 16, Arkansas led 46-32 at the half as the Aggies struggled to find their range, making just 1 of 15 three-pointers while Arkansas was 5 of 10. But the second half was almost all Texas A&M.

The Aggies took a 77-76 lead with 7 seconds left on Wade Taylor's three pointer, but Musselman got a quick timeout and put Keyon Menifield in. Mark drove into the paint and hit a floater with 1 second left to give the Hogs the win.

It was a win in a game that took 2 hours, 38 minutes as the officials called 50 fouls and the teams shot a combined 73 free throws with the Hogs taking the most advantage hitting 31 of 40 while the Aggies were 23 of 33.

A&M finished with 24 of 74 from the field and 6 of 29 behind the arc, while the Razorbacks were 20 of 51 and 7 of 19 on threes, just 2 of 9 in the second half.

On Wednesday night, the Aggies missed six free throws in the first half, including the front end of two one-and-ones. They looked lost on how to handle the Razorbacks, who lost leading scorer Mark with six minutes to go in the first half but he returned big for the second half.

Arkansas shot only six threes, made two, but converted 11 of 14 free throws in the first half when the Aggies looked at them like a final exam with no answers.

Like in the first game, the officials controlled the tempo, calling 53 fouls. But instead of helping the home team, it sent the Hogs home with a win.

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