Davis’ two free throws put Razorbacks up to stay in 65-58 win against UNC Greensboro

Razorback junior guard Davonte Davis (#4) from Jacksonville, AR hits a short jumper against UNCG Tuesday night at
 Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Photo by Craven Whitlow.

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — No. 9 Arkansas came out of the gate cold and found themselves in a battle most of the night before taking a 65-58 victory over UNC Greensboro Tuesday night in Bud Walton Arena.

The Razorbacks trailed 26-21 at halftime. UNC Greensboro led for 29 minutes, six seconds of the game compared to only 7:47 for Arkansas. Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman was pleased to get the win, but wasn’t happy with how the team played particularly early on.

“Often times you have one guy have an off night or two guys,” Musselman said. “And all the credit goes to UNCG from a defensive standpoint, but we have a lot of guys just not play as well as they have been. And they all kind of did it in one game. Not all, but many. 

But I thought down the stretch our guys played composed. We talked yesterday a long time about five seniors coming in here, and I thought their team came in with great confidence. I thought they played with great maturity. It’s part of our growth with 11 new players.”

And that is what the Hogs did. Arkansas’ Anthony Black tied the game at 49 with 4:21 remaining in the game. Arkansas took the lead for good 17 seconds later when Davonte “Devo” Davis hit two free throws to put Arkansas up 51-49.

“And for us, maybe we didn’t handle the great second half that we had against San Jose State and put that behind us and understand how hard it is to go and earn every win,” Musselman said. “But certainly down the stretch we played well enough to win the basketball game.”

In addition, Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile was helped off the court with an injury after only playing for nine minutes. Musselman was asked for an update afterward.

“No, there won’t be any update until he gets with the medical people tomorrow and they’re able to MRI it or X-ray it,” Musselman said. “So we won’t know until tomorrow.”

Musselman said it was tough for the players to see their teammate go down. He also talked about how the team adjusted to the loss of one of its key players.

“It certainly changed,” Musselman said. “On a night when we were really struggling, it certainly changed the complexion [of the game]. We had a lot of players playing out of position that we’ll have to try to get corrected very quickly before we play a really good Oklahoma team on Saturday. We need everybody ready to play from start to finish.”

The Razorbacks got a big night from freshman Nick Smith Jr. The talented Smith led the Hogs with 22 points and added four rebounds, three assists, one steal and a block. Still, Smith was unhappy with his defense.

“First, on-ball defense, one thing as guards we try to make the job easier for our bigs,” Smith said. “I feel like the bigs do a lot for us. Khi (Makhi Mitchell), he especially does a lot for us. We just have to make it easier, especially coming off ball-screens, coming over the ball-screens and trying not to get hit so much. I just tried to come out and be aggressive. I knew we were down, and I knew I wasn’t playing as hard as I could play, and I just wanted to come out and play hard.”

Musselman talked about Smith’s statement about defense, but also was quick to credit his showing on offense.

“Yeah, I think tonight, defensively, the entire team has got to get better than what we defended, especially from 3,” Musselman said. “I thought Nick was really good offensively. The 11 FTAs were really important on a night that we struggled. In virtually his second game, to have 22 points is — especially when we only scored 65… If he doesn’t have a good scoring night, then we probably don’t win tonight.”

Makhi Mitchell also had a very big game for the Razorbacks with 13 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, four blocks and two steals.

“I just think he’s getting more comfortable,” Musselman said. “And he plays hard, like, he runs the floor hard. The game is, you know, like if you’re struggling, run the floor and get an easy layup you know, fly in there and crash the offensive glass and get a put-back. And he’s doing that. His activity defensively is really good. Tonight he’s, if you point to someone that just says ‘Hey, coming into the game, did you think you were gonna get a double-double and for blocks?’ I mean, his stat line is really impressive.”

Mitchell wasn’t particularly impressive when the Hogs played in Europe during August. But he has emerged as one of the better players on the team and earned a starting spot.

“I mean, we saw his agility, his ability to move his feet when we watched film when he played at Rhode Island,” Musselman said. “That’s why we were really intrigued with him. But I just think he’s been very, you know, he’s adapted to our culture. Maybe early on it was, he was still trying to learn what the expectations are and things like that.”

Black finished with 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and one block. He was 4 of 8 from the field as well as 2 of 4 from behind the 3-point line.

“AB is really working on it,” Musselman said. “On off hours, you see him in the gym. I think he’s shooting the ball with good confidence. I think the biggest thing is his feet are set when he’s taking those threes, and we need him to keep the defense honest. I think his three-point percentage – I don’t have it in front of me, his [cumulative] stats for the year – but I think it continues to rise because the quality of the shot that AB is taking is a high quality shot. He’s not forcing it, he’s getting his feet set, he’s getting it on swing passes or when his man over helps.”

Davis had 10 points and 10 rebounds as well as three steals.

“Yeah, I thought Devo did, he played a lot of the, you know, we had him guarding some fours and we played him out of position just because we’re kind of doing stuff on the fly with with TB getting injured,” Musselman said. “But I thought his energy was phenomenal, crashing the glass at his size, getting 10 boards was awesome. And in transition, he added a different dimension to us as well playing that spot.”

Ricky Council had an off night only making one of seven field goals though he was perfect on six free throw attempts. He finished with eight points and three rebounds.

The charity stripe was kind to Arkansas on this night. Arkansas was 26 of 33 from the free throw line. UNC Greensboro made seven of the 11 they attempted.

Donovan Atwell led UNC Greensboro with 13 points and three steals. Dante Treacy had 11 points and five rebounds. Kobe Langley finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. UNC Greensboro fell to 4-6 on the season.

Arkansas (8-1) will be in Tulsa on Saturday to face Oklahoma at the BOK Center. The game tips at noon and will be televised on ESPN2. The Sooners defeated Kansas City 75-53 on Tuesday night to move to 7-2 on the season. 

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