By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — Junior Davonte “Devo” Davis is making impacts for Arkansas in various ways including stepping up as a leader.
On Tuesday night Davis and the Hogs defeated LSU 60-40. Davis scored 16 points making all his eight shots except one and was perfect on both of his 3-pointers. He also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals while playing the full 40 minutes. But Davis has seemingly been one of the leaders on this team in recent weeks as the Hogs navigate through a tough schedule minus two key players. Eric Musselman talked about Davis being vocal in the huddles and his overall leadership.
“I think the players have kind of been waiting for some internal leadership,” Musselman said. “I really do. It’s interesting because I have so many friends that come and observe practice, people from out of town that might not know our players’ personalities, and I love to get their feedback. One of the themes is it’s a group that does a great job listening and trying do the right things, but at times a little bit quiet, unlike some of our other teams that we kind of knew Jaylin Williams was going to be really, really vocal; Mason Jones really, really vocal; JD Notae knew exactly what we wanted. We’ve had some — Jimmy Whitt, Jalen Tate — real vocal guys, and we need Devo to continue to evolve into that guy for us.”
Davis took an even bigger step with his leadership on Tuesday night. When LSU pulled to within 46-35 with 9:18 remaining in the game as the Hogs watched a big lead evaporate, Davis called a timeout. It was generally assumed that Musselman called the timeout, but Davis confirmed it was him.
“Yeah, I called it,” Davis said. “We had a media coming up, and I still called it.”
Obviously the next question was why?
“I saw we were only like nine or 10, and I really didn’t want it to come down,” Davis said. “I think they were trying to press, too. They were trying to get on an even longer run. I was like ‘Nope, not doing it. Let’s call this timeout, get ourselves together.’ And then we come back out, try to get a bucket and the next media (timeout) is coming back up. And I think we did that because we got a stop on the other end and then the media, so I think we did a pretty good job. I think I executed on that pretty well.”
Davis said that Musselman wasn’t mad at him for calling the timeout, but did talk about the expression on his face.
“He was lost at first,” Davis said. “He was like (makes confused face). And I was like ‘I called it.’”
Musselman acknowledged his conversation with Davis about the timeout.
“Probably Devo’s done that about three times,” Musselman said. “Maybe four. I know he did at least once as a freshman. Probably two part. He was probably tired, mad and knows I’m not going to call one. So you add those together and he called it himself.
“We’ve got plenty [of timeouts]. He probably could call two or three and we’d still had enough for a late-game [situation] if we needed it.”
Davis is averaging 10.2 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game. But those numbers have seen an uptick since beginning SEC play. Musselman has noticed.
“He’s playing fabulous,” Musselman said. “Defensively, it’s every single night. Because the defensive job we did on No. 12 KJ Williams and 44 Adam Miller, those guys are two really good offensive players. Those two guys are perfectly capable of putting up really good numbers from an offensive standpoint. I thought Devo did a really good job chasing Miller because they bring him off a ton of screens and he cuts hard.
“And then certainly from an offensive standpoint, he was very, very vocal in timeouts tonight throughout the game, and we’ve kind of been waiting on someone to emerge a leader with their voice instead of it being the coaching staff. I think he’s kind of turned the corner on that, and tonight was by far the most vocal I’ve seen him in huddles.”
Musselman went into more detail on what is leading to Davis’ best stretch during his three-year period at Arkansas.
“Yeah, there’s no doubt,” Musselman said. “The biggest thing — and my wife said it two days ago — his shot selection has been unbelievable. He’s playing the point guard with Anthony (Black). Tonight he’s telling us to slow it down, get a good shot and milk the shot clock. That’s maturity on his part, it’s him understanding the system, understanding what we’re looking for down the stretch.
“Defensively, again, it’s another level, and now offensively he’s doing the same exact thing. From an offensive standpoint, he’s doing a good job taking care of the basketball. It’s really cool to see growth in his game, both as a leader and offensively and defensively he keeps getting better. I don’t know how that’s possible, but he keeps doing it.”
Davis even stepped up his trash talking some after the game. Miller had taken to Twitter to draw the attention of Davis, Arkansas’ players and the fans. Davis talked about his job on guard Miller following the game.
“It wasn’t personal for me,” Davis said. “So shoot, I’ll do whatever it takes to back up my teammates and that’s what I did. I think he averaged 9 in conference, that’s what he had, so we tried to hold him to his average or under. But not too personal, to answer your question. I mean I’ve done guarded better people.”
Davis and the Hogs will be playing “better people” on Saturday when they take on No. 17 Baylor in Waco as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. The tip will be at 3 p.m. on ESPN.