Basketball Hogs to take on 6-1 Troy in Bud Walton Monday night

Razorback sophomore forward Trevon Brazile (#2) from Springfield, MO drives to the basket against North Dakota State at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Photo by Craven Whitlow.

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas returns home to play host to Troy on Monday night after a third-place finish in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

Troy brings a 6-1 record into Bud Walton Arena including a 79-72 victory over Florida State on Nov. 14. Eric Musselman is impressed with what he has seen of the Trojans.

“Troy is a really well-coached team,” Musselman said. “They have really good toughness and play extremely hard. They are a high steal team. You mentioned the great start they are off to, they pound the offensive glass. They fill passing lanes, they shoot a high volume of threes. They are good in transition. So there are a lot of things we have to cover in a very short amount of time frame.”

Musselman did express concern about the emotional state of his team following three games in as many days in Hawaii.

“I’ve talked to other people who have played in Maui,” Musselman said. “I think that’s one of the concerns is coming back and playing your first game. To my knowledge, I think we have the earliest game being on a Monday. I think some other teams play on Tuesday and another team plays on Thursday as their first game back. Again, I think we have for sure as short of a turnaround as anybody. So, that is of concern. I know sleep patterns are a little bit messed up right now for all of us but hopefully by tomorrow night we’ll be a little bit more adjusted timeframe wise.”

Musselman has seen his Hogs hold up very well early in the season without touted freshman Nick Smith Jr. The heralded recruit has yet to play due to knee pain management. But he traveled with the team to Maui and was very animated on the bench.

“Nick has done a great job of late,” Musselman said. “His repetitions in practice have continued to get better and improve. His activity level in practice continues to grow. Monday, he’ll be evaluated again. He has not been fully cleared, but he did meet with rehab today and I think he’s meeting with the doctor again Monday.”

Musselman also talked about what Smith is doing in practice.

“He’s starting to do some team stuff again,” Musselman said. “Obviously, today we’ll be able to get a little bit more active. Certainly, tomorrow will be more active than even today. He’s moving in the right direction for sure. He’s taking his rehab extremely serious. He’s getting closer to playing for sure. Like I said, on Monday we’ll just have to see how he does in the next two days of practice.”

Arkansas has 11 new players this season including six true freshmen and five transfers. Musselman was asked if the Hogs grew up some in Maui?

“I think so,” Musselman said. “The Maui tournament historically is a premier tournament. Unbelievable teams in that tournament. Sometimes even when you lose there are great learning lessons. Creighton, San Diego State, both teams are really well coached. I thought both teams really understood their roles really well this early in the season. So, certainly a huge challenge for us, and I thought our young team grew up over those three games. I think as we get into conference play, those games we will be able to reflect back on and use them as learning lessons.”

Troy has seven players averaging between nine and 14 points per game. Musselman detailed what he has seen of the balanced Trojans.

“You mention the backcourt of No. 3 (Duke) Miles and obviously No. 2 (Aamer) Mohammed is an excellent player,” Musselman said. “Both those guys play the guard. And 0 (Kieffer) Punter is a really good 3-point shooter.  (Christyon) Eugene can make threes. (Nelson) Phillips at the small forward spot is another guy that can make threes and (Christian) Turner and (Jackson) Fields can make open shots.

“Their centers do a really good job of pounding the offensive glass and rim running. They present a lot of problems. They played excellent in Tallahassee against Florida State. And Montana is not an easy place to win at. They beat Montana at their place so really a gritty, tough team. A team that plays really, really hard and creates turnovers. Any time you face a team that can make threes and has good game off the bounce and dribble drive as well, you’ve got to make some decisions from a defensive scheme standpoint.”

Missouri transfer Trevon Brazile came off the bench in Maui and played extremely well against both Creighton and San Diego State. Brazile had 20 points, nine rebounds and two steals in the overtime win against the Aztecs. That followed his Creighton performance of 17 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal and three blocked shots. Musselman talked about Brazile and what he brings to the team.

“I think he’s a guy that’s kind of like a baseball hitter,” Musselman said. “You give him enough swings and he’s going to figure out a way if he’s really good to get on the base paths. To hit RBIs or whatever you might want to say. With TB his 3-point shooting really changes the complexion of who we are. And he had some really good, really phenomenal dribble drives to the rim as well. And then obviously defensively his length.

“We’ve stated before that he’s a starter but we’re bringing him off the bench. I love him in that role because he can change the complexion of the game whether it be at the 17-minute mark of the first half or the 19-minute mark of the second half. At some point he seems to come in and give us a great jolt when he enters the game.”

The player who really stood out for the Hogs in Maui showing some scoring skills that weren’t present earlier in the season was true freshman Anthony Black. In Maui, Black had 26 points against Louisville and Creighton and then 15 in the San Diego State game.

“I think with all freshmen or transfers, there’s always a little bit of learning curve for how we want to play, for how the defense is playing your particular team,” Musselman said. “Anthony, number one, he’s really gotten into the gym a lot on his own. A lot. Shooting. He’s digested a lot of film. I think most importantly, Anthony was just really, really aggressive taking the ball to the basket, and he’s shooting the three-ball of late much better. That opens up dribble-drives, post-ups and things of that nature.”

Arkansas (5-1) hopes to keep the momentum of playing at home going. They are undefeated in three home games thus far. Monday’s game will tip at 7 p.m. and televised on the SEC Network. 

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