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Andy Hodges

Winning pair of road games this week sets up interesting finish to season

Beating Mizzou in OT huge to finish a 2-0 week and now they face what Eric Musselman calls an “incredibly difficult” stretch to end season.

When Arkansas couldn’t close out a win over Missouri in Columbia in regulation Saturday afternoon, you’re excused if you didn’t hold out a lot of hope for a win.

“Often you see a team that’s right there on the verge of winning when they’re on the road and the game goes into overtime, you see an emotional letdown,” Eric Musselman said after the 86-81 win. “You see a team kind of hang their head because it was right there in regulation for us to win.”

However this season plays out the rest of the way, you might want to go ahead and highlight this game.

It’s one the Hogs for a couple of decades now have figure out a way to lose.

Instead, Jalen Tate’s block of a Missouri shot with 21 seconds left held the Hogs’ one-point lead and Moses Moody knocked down free throws and the SEC winning streak continues at six games.

Maybe the biggest thing is it’s now back-to-back league road wins over a Kentucky team that can’t figure out how to win a game and a Top 10 team in Missouri that was missing a key player.

Don’t start qualifying wins. Yes, the Tigers’ were without Jeremiah Tilmon, who missed the game because of a death in the family.

Near the end of Musselman’s post-game press conference Saturday he was asked what it was like to play the Tigers without Tilmon on the floor, but he wasn’t taking the bait on that one.

“I don’t know, I wonder what it was like for them to play us without Justin (Smith) in game one,” Musselman said while unwrapping another Jolly Rancher piece of candy. “Obviously they missed him. Our thoughts are with him and his family.”

Smith stepped up big in this one, leading the Hogs with 19 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

“That was his best game as a Razorback,” Musselman said.

With all of that, though, it came down to the officials reversing a goal-tending call against Tate on his block, then playing defense.

“Tate knew he didn’t goal-tend,” Musselman said. “It was either going to be their ball or our ball on the baseline out of bounds. We did a good job not giving up an easy catch. We had really active hands.”

No, this one still counts as a huge win, regardless who Missouri put on the floor. It’s the first win over a Top 25 opponent for the Hogs this year and will come in handy when they start handing out post-season tournament bids.

“It’s a great win anytime you can beat a top 10 team on the road,” Musselman said.

It counts.

And it shows how Musselman has managed a team that some fans had given up for dead after back-to-back road losses back in mid-January against LSU and Alabama.

“I’m just really proud of our team’s growth,” he said later.

As a result, this team is now 16-5 overall and 8-4 in the SEC. But it gets tougher in the final five or six games (there’s a makeup game with Texas A&M at Bud Walton Arena to be scheduled).

Home games with Florida, Alabama, LSU and the Aggies are wrapped around road trips to Texas A&M and South Carolina.

“Incredibly difficult schedule coming up with some really, really good teams,” Musselman said. “We felt it was really important this week to try and go 2-0.”

Add in a win over a Top 10 team and it will be huge in about a month.

But the Hogs can’t waste this week’s road wins by dropping too many games in this final stretch.

It will be an interesting finish to the regular season.

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