Final Hogs vs. Colgate

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – How the Arkansas Razorbacks closed each half in Friday’s NCAA Tournament’s South Regional victorious first round game against Colgate in Indianapolis enables them to open Sunday in the tournament’s second round against sixth-seeded Texas Tech, a 65-53 Friday first-round winner over 11th-seeded Utah State.

By a far harder to achieve triumph than the 85-68 final score indicates, Coach Eric Musselman’s pressure defense infused 17-0 closing first-half run in the final 4:43 overcame a 33-19 deficit for a 36-33 lead and signaled notions the 14th-seeded underdog Patriot League champion Colgate Raiders were spent against third-seeded Arkansas.

They weren’t. Coach Matt Langel’s gutsy Raiders, finishing their season 14-2, regained the lead during the second half and only trailed, 63-60 with 7:21 left before the Razorbacks reeled a run that Colgate could not overcome.
Arkansas’ 25-5 finish that last 7:21 rocketed them from Friday’s open 64-team tournament’s field that pares to 32 after the remaining Friday and Saturday first round games.

To polish off Colgate Arkansas needed a sensational 40 minutes from graduate transfer forward Justin Smith’s 29 points/13 rebounds including five steals and major supporting roles from guards Jalen Tate, JD Notae, Davonte “Devo” Davis and Moses Moody.

The 6-7 Smith inducing fouls from the lesser athletic Raiders and converting 11 of 13 free throws proved pivotal.

“Going into the game Coach Muss really hammered home the point that we want to go after them inside and use our size and athleticism,” Smith said. “I was able to take advantage of that. And also I got fouled and I was able to make my free throws. I’ve been putting in a lot of work on those and I’m glad that it worked out.”

So did the defensive pressure scoring 34 points off 22 Colgate turnovers.
“That was important,” Smith said. “In the first half, none of our shots were really falling. We used those turnovers to really get out and run and get easy, easy baskets.That’s where a good portion of our offense came from. Without that we probably wouldn’t have won the game.”

Langel said his tough guys got out-toughed.

“I thought after we got a significant lead in the first half, they really made a conscious decision to turn up the defensive intensity and they played a smaller lineup,” Langel said. “Clearly, Coach put his toughest guys in the game, and we weren’t ready. I feel bad that I didn’t have our guys prepared for that part of what Arkansas did. They hadn’t done that very often, certainly not in the SEC, and it ended up being the difference in the game.”
Musselman said Colgate’s first half effectiveness dictated the small lineup shift.

“Obviously, if the game plan was to play Justin at center from the get go, we would have done that,” Musselman said. “But I threw Jaylin Williams out there. We threw Ethan (Henderson) out there. Obviously, Connor started, and then we went small at halftime. And I got feedback from the players as well, and they felt like they felt comfortable going small as well against Colgate. I knew we were going to have to turn them over. We couldn’t let them run their offense.”

Graduate transfer point guard Tate scored 15 points with with seven rebounds and four assists.

Sixth man Notae scored 14 points, including three key second-half threes, and grabbed five rebounds and three steals.

Freshman Davis of Jacksonville scored 12 points and six rebounds. His two first-half steals leading to his own basket and one by Desi Sills, first ignited the reeling Razorbacks from their 33-19 deficit.

Considering his 17.4 scoring average, Moody suffered an off night and was benched in foul trouble when the Hogs rallied with their 17-0 first-half run.
Still, for the game Moody scored 12 points, with nine of them carrying Arkansas early in the game, and aided the defensive effort finally wearing down Colgate.

Only Colgate star guard Jordan Burns, with a 32-point NCAA Tournament effort on his resume from 2019 when the Raiders battled Tennessee to the wire before beaten, 77-70, fared better in Friday’s second half than the first.
Burns was shut out the first half but scored 13 in the second half, one shy of fellow starting guard Nelly Cummings’ team leading 14 points.
Colgate 3-point shooting sixth-man Jack Ferguson, 3 of 6 first-half treys as Colgate shot 12 of 27 treys for the game, plagued Arkansas early. Ferguson tallied 11 first half points during Colgate’s big first half run but scored no more stuck on 11 once Arkansas amped the defensive pressure.
Thriving on the small lineup with 6-7 Smith the tallest as Arkansas rotating big men 7-3 Vanover, 6-10 Williams and 6-8 Ethan Henderson produced zero points and only Williams’ three rebounds for their combined 9:57 minutes, the Razorbacks were fortunate getting 6-11 off the bench Colgate big man Jeff Woodward in early foul trouble. Woodward tallied 5 of 6 from the field scoring 11 with three early fouls and four for the game only logged 12 minutes.

Arkansas takes a 23-6 record into Sunday’s game against former Arkansas-Little Rock Coach Chris Beard’s Texas Tech Red Raiders.
The Red Raiders of the Big 12 bring an 18-10 into Sunday’s game determining who advances to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
Sunday’s tip-off time between Arkansas and Texas Tech was not scheduled to be announced until Friday night after all Friday first-round games completed.

Musselman said the Razorbacks, with only former Northern Kentucky University guard Tate with prior NCAA Tournament jittery, but were postgame businesslike already approaching Sunday’s game.
“You know what, there was no celebrating in the locker room tonight,” Musselman said. “The other tournaments that we’ve been able to advance in, there’s a lot of celebration even after Game One. There was none. When I walked in and asked if they were happy and all right, they said, ‘Coach, we were supposed to win’ which is the mindset that you want your basketball team to have.

We know that this next game is going to be even more of a challenge. Any time you’re talking about Texas Tech, they’re physical. But we’ll worry about them once we get back to the hotel.”

Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action

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