One of the more surprising aspects of the 14th-ranked Razorbacks’ overtime win over No. 3 Purdue on Saturday was who stepped up offensively at the end of regulation and during the extra frame.
It wasn’t offensive-minded guards El Ellis or Khalif Battle or even star forward Trevon Brazile. Instead, versatile two-way guard Tramon Mark was given the ball. In the most memorable play from the charity exhibition, Arkansas trailed 69-66 with less than a minute to play. Mark dribbled toward the left wing as Chandler Lawson came up to set a weak side screen. As Lawson got to the Purdue defender, Mark pulled up from behind the arc and drilled the game-tying three.
“I think if we would have simply been trying to get to the cup and get a FTA (free throw attempt), which is a lot of times my nature, but for whatever reason, we ran on the weak side to come off for a three,” Eric Musselman said regarding the play after the game. “I think when we talked about that, yeah, T-Mark thought like, ‘All right, Coach is fine with us taking a three,’ because the first option was a weak side three-ball.”
Mark played outstanding on both ends of the floor all game – dishing out four assists without turning the ball over once, grabbing six rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Not primarily known for his scoring ability, Mark finished with 15 points on the game, including five during the overtime period. However, he could’ve finished with 19 if he knocked down all eight of his free throw attempts.
He was able to knock down four of his eight free throws, but was the only Razorback to miss from the charity stripe all game. When asked if those free throw misses caused Musselman to rethink putting the ball in Mark’s hands, the Arkansas head coach said that was not the case at all.
“Zero thought of not letting him continue to have the ball in his hands. There was no thought of, ‘Hey, let’s hide him in the corner. He’s missed some free throws,’ I’m riding with him,” Musselman said. “I trust his mental toughness. No different than JD Notae a couple of years ago. He missed 10 shots, I’m riding with him.”
“You have to have your team believe in him during stretches of struggles,” Musselman continued. “Obviously, he struggled from the line early. The game was kind of in hand and we still put it in his hands to get fouled.”
With two exhibition games under their belts, Musselman’s Hogs will officially open the season one week from today against Alcorn State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. central time and will be streamed on SEC Network+.