ORU’s challenge good for 7-0 Hogs

Moses Moody, Justin Smith, Jalen Tate / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman might not admit it, but his Razorbacks (7-0) got just what they needed in an 87-76 victory over the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles Sunday — a challenge.

Musselman’s Hogs haven’t faced the toughest of schedules thus far. Concern over Covid-19 forced Arkansas’ program to take a more regional approach to scheduling, which has left his second Arkansas squad basically unchallenged thus far.

It’s nice to be undefeated, but going into a very tough SEC schedule which opens Dec. 30 on the road at Auburn without having a gut-check game is scary business.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Abilene Christian
When: 4 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22
Where: Fayetteville, Ark
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 7-0

Next four games

Dec. 30 – at Auburn (6 p.m. ESPN2)
Jan. 2 – Missouri (11 a.m. CBS)
Jan. 6 – at Tennessee (6 p.m. ESPN2/U)
Jan. 9 – Georgia (2:30 p.m. / SEC Network)

ORU fixed that Sunday by taking the fight to the Razorbacks, leading the game for the bulk of the first half when the Hogs were fixated on jacking up 3-point attempts and into the second half before Arkansas tightened up the screws defensively and went to work on offense.

The game became a showcase for senior forward Justin Smith, an Indiana graduate transfer, who led all scorers with 22 points and 17 rebounds in 38 minutes on the floor. Had Smith been a bit more efficient with his shooting around the basket, he could have had a 30-point night.

It was a tough shooting night for the Hogs overall who managed just 41.6 percent (32 of 77) shooting from the field and a dismal 16.7 percent (4 of 24) from behind the 3-point arc.

No doubt ORU deserves some credit for the Hogs’ poor shooting in the contest, but a lot of it had to do with less than the best shot selection and just being in a hurry, particularly on too many point-blank crib shots.

That’s an area the Razorbacks are going to have to improve upon in SEC play if they hope to win their way into the NCAA Tournament. If they don’t draw a foul, the Hogs can’t let so many chippies just rim out.

No doubt Musselman will find dozens of other teachable moments from the victory, which to their credit the Razorbacks wrestled away from the Golden Eagles, who were cruising at points in the first half against a rather undisciplined Arkansas offensive display.

The game will make the Hogs better. It will give them confidence to keep fighting after a poor start, and again it will give the Hog coaching staff plenty of coaching points to emphasize in practices leading into SEC play. It’s good for a coaching staff to gain teachable moments without the team suffering a loss.

The Razorbacks are back in action quickly with a contest against Abilene Christian at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Walton Arena. The tipoff time was moved to accommodate the SEC Network, which will broadcast the game.