FAYETTEVILLE – On JD Notae’s step back the Arkansas Razorbacks stepped forward besting the Florida Gators for the first time in Gainesville, Florida since 1995 with an 80-74 SEC triumph Tuesday night at the Gators’ Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center.
Notae’s step back 3-point dagger with 1:06 left in the game advanced Arkansas to what proved an insurmountable, 75-71 lead. Coach Eric Musselman’s 18th-ranked Razorbacks improved to 22-6 overall, 11-4 in the SEC heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. CBS televised SEC clash against nationally No. 6 Kentucky at what again will be a sold-out Walton Arena.
Coach Mike White’s unranked Gators, with on the bubble NCAA Tournament aspirations after upsetting nationally No. 2 SEC leader Auburn last Saturday in Gainesville, fall to 17-11 overall, 7-8 in the SEC.
Notae, adding two free throws to Devo Davis’ four three throws in the final 40 seconds, finished his 39 minutes with a team high 22 points of course highlighted by the step back three.
“You talking about the sidestep three just the way we diagrammed it?” Musselman said, laughing on postgame radio. “Yeah, we work on it every day, JD and I. I go over to the side court and really want him shooting a side-step 3 when the game’s one the line.”
Then again he really did.
“You know what, though?” Musselman said. “That’s the beauty of JD. The reason he’s so hard to guard is you never know when he’s going to shoot or where he’s going to shoot from and that just stretches out the defense. In all seriousness, JD does work on that.”
So Notae claims.
“I just saw him (the Florida defender) flying at me, so I gave him a little up-fake,” Notae said. “Been working on that all week. And I just let it ride.”
Notae hit the game’s biggest shot but he shared honors in what truly was a team effort offensively and defensively.
Five Razorbacks scored double figures with sixth man guard Davis scoring 19 points and matching Notae’s six rebounds while dealing four assists and starters Jaylin Williams, the 6-10 center posting 15 points and a game-leading 10 rebounds for his fifth consecutive double-double despite playing through four fouls, while 6-6 swingmen Au’Diese Toney, 6 for 6 on free throws scored 12 points, and Stanley Umude scored 11 with six rebounds.
All put the defensive clamps Musselman said on the Gators they outscored 45-40 in the second half after what Musselman called a poor defensive first half despite Arkansas leading, 37-34 at intermission.
“Second half we locked down on defense,” Musselman said. “We didn’t play good the first half. I was disappointed in our defensive effort. I thought our legs were a little – whatever. But what a great win on the road!”
A historic one given the Gators had won 14 in Gainesville over Arkansas since Nolan Richardson’s 1995 national runner-up Razorbacks last beat Florida at Florida.
“This team,” Devo Davis said of Arkansas winning 12, 11 in the SEC, of its last 13 games since starting 0-3 in the SEC), “has been proving everyone around the country wrong from beating the No. 1 team (Auburn) in Bud Walton to winning here for the first time in 27 years. We’re going to continue to make history. I think this team has a lot more growth to get better.”
They had to get better during this one to prevail.
Williams and those helping him when he sat six minutes with foul trouble more than had their hands full with 6-11 Gators center Colin Castleton (a game-leading 29 points including 9 of 10 from the line) and Gators guard Tyree Appleby, 19 points including the two treys sprinting Florida to a 6-0 lead.
“Castleton’s a really tough matchup for us and for everybody,” Musselman said. “I mean, he did go to the foul line 10 times. We had to move J-Will off of him for a little bit. I was happy with the fact that we kept him off the glass for the most part. He did have six boards in 35 minutes, but we didn’t want him to get up in 8 or 9 rebounds.”
Arkansas outrebounded Florida, 39-31.
Though the game was in Florida, Jacksonville, Ark. not Jacksonville, Fla. marked the game’s most influential Jacksonville.
Both Arkansas’ Davis and Florida’s Appleby, a transfer via Cleveland State, hail from Jacksonville, Ark.
“”He’s a terrific player,” Davis said of Appleby. “We always played with each other and against each other back at home during the summer time and things like that. He had a really good game, especially starting off. He was able to put the game in their hands at first but you see we came out with the win. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Davis was an offensive and defensive catalyst, Musselman said, especially in the transition game and part of the more than proficient ball handling, only six turnovers against an aggressive Florida defense.
“I thought Devo was phenomenal,” Musselman said. “Devo off the bench was really important for us in the second half.”
Williams’ foul trouble, he picked up his second downcourt just five seconds before half and third with 16:43 left in the game, ultimately worked some to Arkansas’ advantage, Musselman said.
With smaller players guarding Castleton, the Gators went more to him inside in the second half and eschewed the hot starting threes, 7 of 16 in the first half to 1 for 9 in the second half.
“One of the things we talked about at halftime was if they throw the ball into Castleton, that does eliminate the 3 ball,” Musselman said. “I thought that exchanging twos instead of threes would certainly help us defensively.”