Beyond the box: Veteran leadership key in Arkansas’ win over SDSU

Kamani Johnson likely won’t finish in the top six or seven on the Arkansas roster in minutes played.

But the 19 he was on the court Wednesday were of massive importance in the Razorbacks’ 78-74 overtime win over San Diego State in the third-place game of the Maui Invitational.

Johnson, a 6-foot-9 forward, is the kind of player from the old school. He’s a rough-and-tumble post player who won’t take many jumpers – or many shots at all – and whose value comes from battling on the block.

Those kinds of players aren’t en vogue in basketball, but Wednesday showed there is still a place for them. Arkansas coach Eric Musselman leaned on his big man in the late going, with Johnson’s toughness and leadership proving paramount for a Hogs team with only two returners.

Let’s take a look beyond the box score at how Arkansas came away with the victory.

Kamani Johnson has grown up a bit

Mar 16, 2022; Buffalo, NY, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks forward Kamani Johnson (20) with the ball during practice before the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson had only played three of Arkansas’ previous five games entering Wednesday’s against San Diego State. A lack of consistency was largely the culprit. But Johnson saw key minutes, especially down the stretch, against the Aztecs.

If he can deliver seven points and seven rebounds a game – or even five and five – in minutes that register in the high teens all season, Johnson’s experience (he’s one of only two returning regulars on the Arkansas roster) could be invaluable.

Arkansas' aggression was a key

LAHAINA, HI – NOVEMBER 22: Anthony Black #0 of the Arkansas Razorbacks reacts after making a basket in the second half of the game against the Creighton Bluejays during the Maui Invitational at Lahaina Civic Center on November 22, 2022 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

Arkansas fans weren’t the only ones upset with the officiating in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational against Creighton.

The Hogs decided the free-throw discrepancy that struck them against Bluejays wouldn’t again versus San Diego State. Arkansas was 27 of 38 from the free-throw line contrasted against the Aztecs’ 18 of 23 night. The Hogs’ athleticism will be of utmost important when SEC play rolls around.

Arkansas wasn't necessarily better, but the Hogs had fight

LAHAINA, HI – NOVEMBER 22: Davonte Davis #4 of the Arkansas Razorbacks takes a jump shot in the second half of the game against the Creighton Bluejays during the Maui Invitational at Lahaina Civic Center on November 22, 2022 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

As good as the game against Creighton was, the third-place game Wednesday was less to look at it. Arkansas shot just 40% from the floor and SDSU was 44%. The teams combined to go 5 for 35 from 3-point range, too.

But Arkansas won the rebounding game, second-chance points, fastbreak points and blocked shots. The margins were razor thin, but they are margins that helped in an overtime victory.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire