By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – By among the more all-time deceptive, 93-80 final scores, the 16th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the University of Northern Iowa Panthers Wednesday night at Walton Arena.
On AJ Green’s three, NIU took a 79-78 lead with 3:09 left that Arkansas regained, 80-79 on Jaylin Williams’ tip-in at 2:45.
After a Nate Heise UNI miss, Arkansas forward Audiese Toney hit a 3-pointer from the corner then made a steal that JD Notae converted to assisting Jaylin Williams for a layup.
The deceptive rout was on as the Panthers ran dry of their sprees of threes and kept fouling.
And Arkansas, 13 of 17 from the line for the game, kept hitting them to run away with what had been a close game and take a 3-0 record into their next game Monday night against Kansas State in Kansas City
Though the Panthers are 1-3, Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman wasn’t surprised the veteran team from a notorious giant-killing NIU Missouri Valley Conference team was right there with his Hogs until the final couple of minutes.
What did surprise him, even knowing how well the Panthers shoot the three, is that all the 3-point defense stressed since the Hogs struggled defending the three in an exhibition game and its first two official games, didn’t translate from the practice court to the game court.
The Panthers could have been called Pistols for shooting 17 of 37 treys. They included 7 of 11 by Trae Berhow and his team leading 23 points. Green shot 4 of 13 from three scoring 16 while Heise hit 2 of 3 threes scoring 16.
“I can promise you guys that defending the three was part of the game plan coming in,” Musselman said for postgame press conference openers. “But there’s not many games I’ve coached where a team made 27 field and 17 of them are from three. Give them a ton of credit. They play hard. They cut hard. They know their roles.”
Yet the Razorbacks ran them off the court the final 2:45.
“I don’t know if it’s a word, but we have a lot of spurtability at times,” Musselman said. “I mean, we’ve proven now that we can come at you real quick, and strike, and go on a 13-0 run or go on a 25-5 run. Like we’ve done that. Historically we’ve been really good in the second half, and tonight the same thing. You want your team to close the game properly, which we did. Not many teams are going to make 17 threes on you and you’re going to come out and win.”
But you are apt to win big, as Arkansas eventually did, scoring 93 points with a 21 to 5 assists/turnover ratio.
“You’re not going to find many teams at any level that score 93 points and only have five turnovers,” Musselman said. “So taking care of the basketball, we did an incredible job and scored 53 points in the second half. Offensively, I thought we were really good.”
Arkansas came up with some big-time performances, especially missing big-time sophomore point guard Devo Davis. Davis tallied 10 points and zero turnovers but missed the game’s final 14:55, ejected for committing what was deemed a flagrant foul on Berhow.
Between via University of Miami transfer guard Chris Lykes off the bench both halves and starting shooting guard JD Notae moved to the point, the Hogs didn’t miss a backcourt beat.
Lykes, 14 points in the back and forth first half that Arkansas led, 40-38 at intermission, and 12 in the second half, tallied a game-high 26 points including 4 of Arkansas’ 10 of 24 treys.
UNI Coach Ben Jacobson wasn’t surprised.
“Coming in, one of the concerns that we had was their depth and the quality of their roster,” Jacobson said. “If it wasn’t Lykes tonight, there was a good chance it was going to be somebody else. And if not that guy, yet somebody else.”
Notae flirted with a triple double, 17 points, eight rebounds and a team high nine assists.
“I thought Chris Lykes was phenomenal!’ Musselman said. “Phenomenal! And then JD, when he slid or to the point guard, did really well. Nine assists. When he plays like that, only one turnover, phenomenal assist-to-turnover ratio.”
In the front court 6-10 starting sophomore power forward/center Jaylin Williams, starting forward Toney, and off the bench forward Stanley Umude contributed big-time, too.
Williams, second-half hobbled by injury but coming back anyway, scored 11 points with six rebounds and seven assists.
Most point guards would envy Williams’ 17 assists for three games.
“Jaylin Williams, seven assists, zero turnovers,” Musselman said. “A lot of things to really like.”
Toney, the graduate transfer via the University of Pittsburgh, scored 13 points with six rebounds and that key late steal.
Umude, the graduate transfer via the University of South Dakota, scored 10 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
Musselman bragged on much but still seethes about 3-point defense.
“It’s mind-boggling to me because we were so good two years ago,” Arkansas’ third-year coach said. “We were pretty good last year, but we led the doggone nation two years ago doing the same freaking drills. I can’t figure out why. We’ve got to clean that up.”
Photos Courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3 Sports Action