Analyze Arkansas’ overtime win over the Aztecs

During his pre-game interview Wednesday with Chuck Barrett on the Razorback Sports Network, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman referenced San Diego State’s veteran advantage.

In his opinion, it was a potential difference maker and something the Razorbacks would have to deal with. For more than 25 minutes, the Aztecs’ toughness helped them control No. 17 Arkansas No. 9 in the game for third place at the Maui Invitational.

But then Kamani Johnson, one of the Razorbacks’ old boys, changed the game’s veteran sharpness and guts. His efforts in the second half and overtime were instrumental in Arkansas’ thrilling 78-74 win over San Diego State that closed the tournament.

The Razorbacks ended the tournament 2-1. They also defeated Louisville in the first round 80-54 and fell to No. 10 Creighton in the semifinals 90-87.

Johnson, in his third season with the program, had played 21 minutes in Arkansas’ first 5 games that season, scoring 2 points and catching 5 rebounds. He scored 7 tremendous points and 7 brave rebounds in 19 minutes on Wednesday.

Four of his rebounds were on the offensive end, and the biggest came after freshman guard Anthony Black’s runner missed regulation in the dying seconds. With the Razorbacks down two, Johnson grabbed the rebound and added a score on the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

More from WholeHogSports: The No. 9 Razorbacks beat the No. 17 Aztecs in an overtime thriller

In overtime, Johnson finished with 2 steals, 2 defensive rebounds, 2 offensive rebounds, and 4 points. When Arkansas needed a boost from up to 13 points behind, he came through like a maniac.

And like a veteran with a certain advantage and a lot to prove.

Musselman praised the 6-7 forward for his energy and prowess on assist defense, which changed for the better when Johnson came into the lineup. The Razorbacks outscored the Aztecs by 14 points in their 19:07 on the floor.

Johnson, who spoke with Barrett in a radio interview after the game, was asked if he decided to stay in Arkansas and not move after last season to have a chance to have a personal and team moment like the one Wednesday to have.

“I wanted to stay because I think we have enough talent to fight for a national championship,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the reasons I came back to be a leader and get these guys trying to fight for a national championship. That’s why I stayed, and definitely for moments like this.

“I was ready for the moment and I feel like one of the leaders on this team, so I had to show them how to fight. It was just a team effort out there. I love how we fought and that will only help us in March.

“It’s one of those belly wins, you know what I mean? I do not know what to say.”

Johnson’s fresh legs and bouncy engine made life difficult for San Diego State after halftime. Musselman has repeatedly called Johnson one of the best offensive rebounders in the country.

After Wednesday’s game, he has a 23.9% offensive rebound rate this season, according to KenPom data. Eight of his 12 boards in 40 minutes played followed an Arkansas miss.

Johnson said he told teammates before the game-changing putback to just take a shot and give him a little time to have an opportunity to lock in a potential miss. Black did and Johnson did.

“This just showed me that our young people are not going to give up,” Johnson said. “Our entire team will not give up. That will certainly help us to go into March.”

More from WholeHogSports: Musselman, Brazile discusses victory over San Diego State

Johnson’s remarkable performance off the bench was the story of the game. Forward Trevon Brazile, a transfer from Missouri, finished a very close second.

Brazile finished with a team-high 20 points on 6-of-14 from the floor and 3-of-8 from three-pointers. He also added a powerful nine rebounds and impressively ended many of the Razorbacks’ defensive possessions.

And for the second year in a row, he found another gear after halftime. On Tuesday, Brazile scored 15 of his 17 points against Creighton in the second half, and on Wednesday he scored 16 in the second half and 2 in overtime.

The 6-10 forward flipped over every one of his threes after the break. Two of the perimeter buckets came in the first four minutes.

But his most impactful play of the night came in the final 10 seconds of regulation when Aztec guard Lamont Butler was trapped and lost the ball while San Diego State led 67-65.

Brazile was first on the floor for the loose ball and he called a time-out to secure possession for the Razorbacks. Black missed the runner off the break, Johnson added the putback, and Arkansas gained control in overtime.

“I didn’t know the guy was going to give up so easily,” Brazile said of the Aztec’s turnover loss. “He’s a senior security guard. These guys are old. He lost the ball, (I) dived on it, timed out as soon as I got it. … I’m a little surprised he didn’t call a time-out. He was in a bad situation. He fumbled with the ball. I’m surprised his coach didn’t take a break.

“He didn’t take a time-out, we got the ball, Kamani made a big play and then (we) went from there.”

After scoring just one point in the 80-54 win over Louisville, Brazile finished the tournament with 37 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals against two top 20 teams. He also hit 6 of 13 three-point attempts.

Brazile is shooting 41.7% from three this season.

“The main thing was that I was just trying to be a leader on the pitch,” Brazile said. “I know my teammates needed me so we just played hard and stuck together, (we) had a good (result).”

Black finished with 15 points and 5 rebounds and was Arkansas’ representative on the All-Tournament Team after averaging an event-high 22.3 points.

Wichita State transfer Ricky Council also added 19 points against San Diego State. He had 1 point at half time but he revived after that, scoring 13 points in the second half and 5 in overtime. He made the first two shots in overtime.

Council averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 2.7 steals per game at the Maui Invitational. It was already known before the trip, but Arkansas has a gem in Council, playing 81 minutes together against Creighton and San Diego State and overcoming a 0-of-7 contest on Wednesday.

The Razorbacks are badass. That’s the key takeaway from her time at the sport’s premier preseason tournament.

At first, everyone expected that Arkansas would face adversity at some point during the trip. This group has great determination and will to win and be great.

The Razorbacks will be a bear to beat in the coming months.

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