FAYETTEVILLE – With struggling previously 2 of 32 3-point shooter Desi Sills finding the range for two game-sealing treys with 2:40 and 2:01 left in the game after a Jimmy Whitt from Jalen Harris dunk gave Arkansas its first 10-point lead, the Razorbacks finally subdued the determined Austin Peay University Governors, 69-61 Tuesday night at Walton Arena.
The victory zoomed new coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks to 8-0 going into Saturday night’s road game at Western Kentucky.
The Ohio Valley Conference Governors of coach Matt Figger fall to 3-4 despite the 20 game-leading points by outstanding Austin Peay guard Terry Taylor and a game-leading 11 rebounds by Austin Peay forward Eli Abev.
Whitt, 17 points, Mason Jones, missing last Saturday’s 66-60 victory over Northern Kentucky with an injured shoulder but shouldering his share of Tuesday night’s scoring with 16 points, including 2 of 4 treys and 6 for y from the line despite six turnovers, and sophomore guard Isaiah Joe via Fort Smith Northside, 16 points including 3 of 10 treys, led Arkansas’ scoring.
Sills’ two threes proved vital as Austin Peay cut a 62-49 deficit at 2:40 down to eight.
“We felt eventually he would knock some down,” Musselman said, citing Sills hitting 29 of 63 threes for former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks last year. “The good thing is we’re going on the road and hopefully that kind of picks up his confidence level. And those two shots, were really, realty important, crucial for us at that time. The game, those were two separators for us.”
As a team Arkansas hit 9 of 23 threes, and shot 22 of 46 from the field overall and 16 of 18 from the line.
“Shooting the ball, the percentages you look at the field goal percentage it almost ends up being 50 percent from the field and the 3-point percentage, close to 39 percent, 40, and the free throws at 88,” Musselman said. “Obviously we shot the ball well tonight, It’s hard to get close to a 50-40-80 which is an NBA term for playing as good as you can play offensively. We almost hit those marks, Turning the ball over is a problem.”
Arkansas committed 20 turnovers but held a 21-18 points off turnovers advantage off Austin Peay’s 21 miscues,
Of Arkansas importance, Musselman asserted, seldom-used sophomore reserve Ethan Henderson provided some key first-half minutes with Arkansas foul troubled and only leading, 34-30 at intermission.
Arkansas’ first-half foul trouble became tables turned in the second half with three Governors committing four fouls and two others three each.
The ninth scholarship player on what’s essentially been an eight-man Razorbacks team and the lone scholarship returnee not to play much for Anderson’s Razorbacks last season, Henderson seized opportunity’s knock in Tuesday night’s first half.
With Razorbacks Adrio Bailey, Reggie Chaney, Sills and Jones all in two fouls first-half foul trouble, and graduate transfer forward Jeantal Cylla continuing to struggle, 6-8 sophomore Henderson from Little Rock Parkview came off the bench at 7:52. Henderson blocked shots at 6:08 and 6:05 to get Arkansas the ball for Jones to break a 18-18 tie, 20-20 at 5:45. Following a Jones 3-pointer, Henderson rebounded and slammed home teammate Jalen Harris’s missed three for a 25-20 lead. Henderson grabbed four rebounds in his seven first-half minutes. though he, too, plunged into foul trouble whistled three times.
“Phenomenal!” Musselman said of Henderson’s contribution. “I can’t give Ethan. enough credit. He blocked shots, he almost led us in rebounding and he only played seven minutes. He did a great job for us.”
“Ethan was great today,” Jones said. “I loved the energy that he brought. That dunk surprised me. That was the high school Ethan I had heard about.”
Arkansas led 34-26 on Joe’s 4-point play, fouled on a 3-pointer at 1:11 but Austin Peay scored the half’s final four points, including a 4-point swing with Whitt missing a layup with 12 seconds left and Taylor beating the halftime buzzer cutting Arkansas’ intermission edge to 34-30.
Down three, 34-32 and down three, the latest 44-41 with 13:41 left, was the closest the Governors got in the second half but remained contending until Sills’ two treys left them out of office.
Photos Courtesy of Craven Whitlow
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