OPINION — Like It Is

Escape or survive: Hogs finding ways to win

Escaped or survived, take your pick.

Arkansas went 40% of the second half, eight minutes, without scoring Saturday and saw a 52-43 lead evaporate into a 59-58 deficit before bowing up and getting out of Columbia, S.C., with a 65-63 win.

It was their first win in a hostile environment this season, but it was the Razorbacks' fifth consecutive SEC win, bringing their overall record to 16-7 and 5-5 in SEC play.

Once again an opponent's zone defense gave them problems, but Saturday they attacked it inside with Jalen Graham, who came off the bench to score a team-high 16 on 8 of 10 shooting attempts, all of them inside.

Devo Davis helped pull South Carolina out of the zone by hitting four three-pointers, the only threes the Hogs had.

No doubt the narrow win will bring another chorus of the same questions concerning Nick Smith.

Smith, a McDonald's All-America in high school and a projected NBA lottery pick this summer, missed the first six games, then played in five, but has now missed his 12th consecutive game. He did not travel with the team to South Carolina or to Baylor before that.

Eric Musselman, probably weary of having no answers to the question about Smith's return, continues to build a winning season with the players he has.

The mystery about Smith is his knee injury. Musselman can't address that because of privacy laws and UA policies.

He said all he could with those: Smith is managing a knee concern. The true freshman from Jacksonville reportedly flew to Los Angeles last month to see doctors about his knee.

Musselman has also been honest when he asked if Smith is practicing with the team. No, he's not.

The two strongest indicators -- he's not practicing and hasn't for a few weeks and he's not traveling with the team to road games -- lead one to be skeptical about his return.

The latest rumor, one of many, is he'll be back for the game at Texas A&M on Feb. 15. But by then there's only six more conference games, the SEC Tournament and possibly the NCAA Tournament.

The question is what would you do? You are looking at a $10 million to $20 million contract this summer if you are healthy.

The NBA drafts on potential, but they rarely are looking for players who need rehab.

It is a tough situation for everyone involved. But all things considered, Musselman and this team have handled everything pretty well, especially considering Trevon Brazile, a three-point shooter, was lost in early December when he injured a knee that required season-ending surgery.

Against South Carolina, the Razorbacks showed some of that growing resiliency and mental toughness.

Despite a scoring drought that would make the Mojave Desert look like a rain forest, they found a way to win.

The Gamecocks had big back-to-back dunks in a span of 55 seconds that gave them a 63-62 lead. But 20 seconds later, freshman Anthony Black got a layup and with 1:07 left the Razorbacks got a charge and even though Davonte Davis missed two free throws, he was about to show up big.

With less than three seconds to play, Black drew a foul and made one of two free throws for a 65-63 lead and the Gamecocks took a very long timeout. Longer than allowed as the buzzer sounded twice and they stayed huddled up.

They finally got the play they wanted and the TV announcers and probably everyone in the arena expected Meechie Johnson, who made five of eight threes, to get the final shot.

Only Davis denied him the ball and the final shot wasn't close, and Arkansas escaped or survived a SEC road game.