It was just under a month ago segments of the Lunatic Fringe of the Arkansas fan base were deserting the bandwagon as fast as they could jump off.
Yes, in true fashion for some folks, they were screaming about Eric Musselman.
That was a knee-jerk reaction any Razorback fan will recognize. It was my position you might want to hang on a bit because a turnaround wouldn’t be surprising.
Yeah, well, it turns out I was right.
Jalen Tate provided the fifth straight SEC win for the Hogs on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena when he calmly stepped to the free-throw line with 4.3 seconds left and hit both shots for an 81-80 win.
For a team that has, at times, looked like a ship without a captain, Tate did what you’d expect from an experienced graduate transfer and it went deeper than just the shots.
“It was funny, because he said, ‘After I make this free throw make sure we get into what we work on every day,’ which is our prevent defense,” Musselman said later. “We’re supposed to match up full court right away and react immediately upon a ball going through the net.”
“His ability to coach the team and remind them to be in our prevent, and the confidence he had to say I’m gonna make the shot and then we’re going to get into prevent was pretty unique in a college timeout,” Musselman said.
For Tate, who transferred to Fayetteville from Western Kentucky and grew up just a few hours from Lexington, he just wanted a win in front of a host of his family and friends at the game.
“With situations like this, it’s in my mind to just take us home,” Tate said later. “I just wanted to win it for my team.”
Razorback fans probably were holding their collective breath. Kentucky still had a shot with 4.3 seconds left to take it away.
Freshman Davonte Davis ended that with a steal.
“I told Jaylin Williams before Jalen Tate shot his second free throw that I was going to get a steal,” Davis said later.
Even though Kentucky is not very good this year (5-13 overall, 4-7 in the SEC), it’s still Rupp Arena and the legends connected to that building.
“It’s huge,” Musselman said about winning there. “Last night after our dinner with the players, our staff sat around and did a little University of Kentucky trivia. Obviously there’s so much history in this building that (winning) does mean something.”
Maybe more than that for the entire program. It was the first win over the marquee program in the league in seven years.
Arkansas fans never could get comfortable, even with a 12-point lead with 6:11 to play. When Davion Mintz hit a three-pointer with 14 seconds left to take an 80-79 lead, there was a collective groan from Hog fans.
They had seen how this plays out before.
But not this time.
When Davis missed a short jumper, Tate managed to get the rebound and was fouled. Even with John Calipari calling a timeout to try and throw Tate off, even that didn’t work.
“I actually think that was good,” Musselman said. “He got to catch his breath a second.”
As a result, the Hogs are now 15-5 overall (7-4 in the SEC) and the bandwagon will continue filling up for at least a few more days.
The Razorbacks go back on the road to play Missouri on Saturday with a chance to make up for the worst home performance of the year in an 81-68 loss back on Jan. 2 in Bud Walton.
Winning that one may bust the springs on the wagon, but you don’t hear much complaining about Musselman these days.
Even from the Lunatic Fringe.