FAYETTEVILLE – Likely emotionally fueled by the pregame ceremony dedicating the Walton Arena floor as Nolan Richardson Court and brought back a host of former Arkansas Razorbacks players and coaches including, Mike Anderson, their coach of last season, the Razorbacks of new Coach Eric Musselman stormed to a 19-3 lead over the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans in Sunday’s exhibition game before 7,384 at Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks then stagnated while fouling too frequently with former Razorback Darrell Walker’s Trojans cutting it to four before the Hogs resumed command up 35-26 at intermission and ultimately prevailing 79-64.
It was the first of two exhibitions both teams are NCAA allowed. The Razorbacks play their second one at 7 p.m,. Friday hosting Southwestern Oklahoma State at Walton.
Arkansas started fast Sunday with a quintet of guards Isaiah Joe, Desi Sills, and point guard Jimmy Whitt and forwards Adrio Bailey and Jeantal Cylla. Joe, the sophomore letterman from Fort Smith Northside, launched 17 of the small Hogs’ 35 3-points and hit 8 while scoring a game high 35 points.
“I thought he (Joe) was awesome,” Musselman said. “The 3-ball is something that is going to be extremely important to us. 35 attempts from beyond the arc is a lot of attempts but that is kind of who we are going to have to be.”
Walker also lauded Joe. “I told the young fella that he’s got a chance to play at the next level,” Walker said. “I told him he needed to stay in the weight room. And I told him he had to learn how to pump fake and put that ball on the floor two or three hard dribbles and raise up and shoot it. Once he does that, he’s gonna have a chance, a legitimate chance. He’s on the NBA’s radar already.
Cylla, Sunday’s tallest starter at only 6-7 and a graduate transfer Musselman recruited post North Carolina-Wilmington, scored 13 points with six rebounds and hit 1 of 5 treys. Sophomore letterman Sills of Jonesboro hit 2 of 7 treys while scoring 12 points. Bailey, eight points, including a spectacular tip-in of a Joe missed long three, and Whitt, “as good, if not the best rebounding point guard in the nation. Musselman said of the graduate transfer via SMU who began his collegiate career under Anderson at Arkansas, led Razorbacks rebounders with nine.
The Razorbacks got some help off the bench but were frequent foulers sending the Trojans to the line 30 times. “We’ve got to clean up our fouling,” Musselman said. “We did want to be physical and kind of be a team that played with physicality and ut we’ve got to clean up and play without fouling. Little Rock couldn’t take advantage hitting only 13 of 30 freebies. “Like I told my guys,” Walker said, “You’re on the road and the officials put you on the free throw line 30 times, that’s on you to make the free throws.’ Hey we didn’t shoot well last year from the free throw line. And God knows we spent a lot of time shooting free throws every day. I mean, just time and time we shoot free throws. My goal is to shoot between 70 and 72 percent from the free throw line. If we can do that, we’ll be fine.”
Both Musselman and Walker, getting a nice hand on his pregame introduction having been an All-American for former Coach Eddie Sutton’s Razorbacks, credited the Trojans for their first half comeback and outrebounding the Hogs, 42-37. “Obviously there are things we need to work on,” Musselman said. “Post defense, and rebounding the basketball. Turnovers (11 in the first half and seven in the second) we did a much better job in the second half.”
Little Rock was led by 6-10 big man Nikola Mariu scoring 14 points with nine boards and the 13 points/11 rebounds double-double by 6-7 forward Kamani Johnson.Musselman, embracing Arkansas’ basketball past since arriving after coaching the University of Nevada and a long tenure in the NBA as both a head coach and assistant, and Walker, a friend of Richardson’s, both praised Richardson and the pregame ceremony.
Musselman was asked Anderson, now the coach at St. John’s of the Big East, returning to honor Richardson for whom Anderson 22 years either played or assisted as a coach. “Obviously, with Coach Anderson, I think it was awesome that he and his wife (Marchieta) were able to come back and participate in the event,” Musselman said. “I think the court looks awesome. I think the administration did a phenomenal job. Everything, even the lane I think looks better. The logos that they put down, I know that is what the fans wanted. It’s a classy look the way they did it. Coach Richardson, legendary coach. It’s kind of a little bit unique that the first time I step on the floor I look out there and (former Razorbacks) Todd Day, and Corey Beck, all these dudes that I have incredible admiration for. I was just appreciative that the student-athletes and our staff were a small part of it.”