Alabama withstands the Hogs’ charge to beat Arkansas, improving to 4-0 in the SEC

Largely bottled up by Arkansas’ top-10 defense in the first half Wednesday night in Fayetteville, Alabama’s pair of NBA-bound freshmen stole the show in the second half.

Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney combined for 26 of the Tide’s first 41 second-half points in an 84-69 win over the Razorbacks, coming up big in key moments to score Alabama’s most consequential SEC win so far this season.

“Tough road win,” coach Nate Oats said. “Our guys showed that they’ve got some toughness, some character, some grit. They can handle some runs and still stay there.”

The No. 4-ranked Tide withstood a 9-0 run by No. 15-ranked Arkansas in the first half and another 7-0 run by the Hogs in the second half, ending the Razorbacks’ late charge by knocking down a string of three pointers. With Arkansas having cut Alabama’s lead to two points and less than five minutes remaining, Clowney hit a triple and Miller followed with two more to rebuild an 11-point lead and silence the Bud Walton Arena crowd.

“Clowney’s not scared of much, and neither is Brandon,” Oats said. “Those three threes between the two of those guys there, when we’re making that run, is huge.”

Alabama improved to 14-2 with the win and 4-0 in the SEC, matching its 2020-21 start as its best in SEC play since the 1986-87 season.

After it beat No. 21-ranked Mississippi State on the road and blew out two unranked opponents — Ole Miss and Kentucky — in Coleman Coliseum, the Tide made a midweek trip to Fayetteville that marked its biggest challenge in conference play so far this season. Alabama delivered, again.

“Couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” Oats said. “Continue to get better every game. We just got to keep getting a little bit better every game. Staying in this hunt for the SEC championship.”

Arkansas did not allow Miller to attempt a shot in the first half while Clowney had only three points before halftime while limited by three fouls. But Clowney made his presence felt with nine points in a span of less than four minutes early in the second half to finish with 15 points, and Miller added 14 after his scoreless first half.

The win was Alabama’s third over an Associated Press-ranked opponent on the road this season, coming after victories at No. 1-ranked Houston and in Starkville. Alabama was 1-8 against top-25 opponents in Oats’ first three seasons. The win in Fayetteville was also Alabama’s first since 2012, snapping a five-game losing streak in the venue.

“After we beat Houston at Houston, I think our guys had some confidence that they could win anywhere,” Oats said. “We’ve been good in tough games. I think Houston is one of the toughest teams in the country. I thought the loss to UConn really kind of showed our guys that if you’re not tough, like you’re not gonna be able to win these big games. I thought our schedule in the non-conference really prepared us for this game.”

Alabama led for a 12-minute stretch of the first half by as many as seven points. Arkansas’ run tied the score at halftime, 33-33, before Alabama opened a 12-point lead midway through the second half, 62-50. Miller attempted the first two shots of the second half, making the second, to start the run.

“We had to get him some shot attempts,” Oats said. “He’s too good not to have anything in half.”

Alabama then went cold and Arkansas narrowed the score to 65-63 with 4:45 remaining. Oats called a timeout and the Tide’s next three shots were three-pointers made by Clowney and Miller. Alabama scored 19 of the game’s final 25 points after Oats’ timeout, with Arkansas not threatening once the lead returned to double digits.

Asked about the message during his timeout, Oats deadpanned, “Just come out and hit about three straight threes and open this thing up,” then laughed.

“I just told them, look, it’s a game of runs,” he said. “They cut it. We’ve got to get back to getting stops, take care of the ball on offense. Settle them down a little bit. They did. They came out. We got stops. We hit some big shots.”

With Miller stifled in the first half, guard Mark Sears scored a team-high 12 points in the first half for Alabama and added 10 more in the second half, including 2-of-3 three-point shooting. He finished with a team-high 26 points, his most since joining Alabama from Ohio University last offseason.

“I mean, we needed somebody to score,” Oats said. “He always comes ready to play. I think his defense has gotten much, much better here recently. But offensively — we needed somebody to score the ball, and he was scoring for us. They kind of sagged some guys and didn’t play some guys that were decent that weren’t shooting well. But Sears can make shots. We need him to shoot it. He got downhill and scored the ball and got fouled.”

Sears also shot 10-of-10 on free throws while his teammates went 15-of-26 on an uneventful night from the line. Clowney made only two of his five, and Jaden Bradley joined Noah Gurley in going 0-for-2.

Arkansas (12-4) fell to 1-3 in the SEC with the loss after being picked to finish second in the preseason media poll. The two teams will meet again Feb. 25 in Tuscaloosa, likely after the return from injury of Arkansas freshman Nick Smith, the top-ranked high school recruit in 2022.

“They didn’t play as tough as a non-conference schedule,” Oats said of Arkansas. “Shoot, I think they were 1-3 last year. They’re 1-3 again. They ended up 13-5 last year. They’ll get it figured out. Sometimes I think they have to play a few tough games in the conference before they figure themselves out. But based on what they’ve done here in the past, I’m sure they’ll get it figured out.”

Alabama hosts unranked LSU on Saturday at 3 pm CT. The Tigers (12-4) have also started 1-3 in conference play after significant roster turnover and a coaching change, from Will Wade to Matt McMahon, earlier this year.

Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.

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