By Otis Kirk
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 11 Arkansas had a big second half to pull away from San Jose State and take a 99-58 win over Saturday in Bud Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks only led 40-35 at the intermission, but took control in the second half and continued to pull away to the easy win. The game marked the first start of true freshman Nick Smith Jr.’s Arkansas career. Smith responded well finishing with 16 points and five assists. He was 6-14 from the field and 3-5 behind the 3-point line. He made one of his two free throw attempts. His first basket of the game was a 3-pointer with 17:57 remaining in the opening half. Eric Musselman talked about his standout freshman.
“It was tough on him, the minutes restriction,” Musselman said. “I know he didn’t like it. Also, I think that first game for any player is a challenge. Tonight he played with great freedom, I think, even mentally. He knew there was no minutes restriction on him. He changes our team offensively with his ability to make threes and beat people off the bounce.”
Smith talked about how it felt to be back starting and playing more minutes.
“It felt good,” Smith said. “Obviously I’ve been waiting on this moment ever since I made the decision to come here. I feel like it was great for us as a team, you know, just to have our whole team playing. Last game, Vo wasn’t with us, so it’s good to have our whole team playing with each other. Fun experience.”
Musselman was pleased to get the win and do it with a full roster finally.
“I thought we really looked like a connected team,” Musselman said. “We just talked postgame about how with this year’s team you might not know when or where your role might be. But tonight was the first time that full roster was together, and I thought we looked like it the first half.
“I thought we struggled a little bit with trying to figure things out. I know I struggled as well with substitution patterns and stuff. But I thought the second half the guys settled in and they played with great offensive freedom, and I thought we did a better job defensively on No. 10, Omari Moore, who’s a really, really talented offensive player.”
Smith likes what he has seen from the Razorbacks thus far in the eight games.
“I feel like our team can be scary,” Smith said. “Coming in to the summer-time on the first day, I saw how much talent we had. I feel like we can be the best team in the country. I feel like we can compete for a national title. And I feel like I played OK. I feel like I can play a lot better, but that just comes with time. That was actually my real first time getting out there. Just trying to compete, trying to win the game. Yeah, I mean, it was fun.”
Trevon Brazile led the Razorbacks with 23 points making all but one of his nine attempts from the field. He also added five rebounds, two assists, a pair of blocks and one steal. After only scoring three points in the win over Troy, Brazile talked about the difference on Saturday.
“Just staying consistent,” Brazile said. “Everybody has off days. That just happened to be one of my off days. I’m going to do the same thing every time down the floor. My energy was a little but low last game, but I just came out with high energy and just did the same thing I do every game.”
Ricky Council IV continued his outstanding play. Council had 17 points, three rebounds and three assists.
A big difference in the two teams and thus the 59-23 scoring margin in second half was the Arkansas bench. They outscored San Jose State 44-4 in bench points.
Other than Brazile no one off the Arkansas bench was more impressive than Jalen Graham. He finished with 11 points and topped the team in rebounding with six. Graham played just 12 minutes in the game.
“I thought Jalen Graham when he went in, he really helped change the complexion of the game,” Musselman said. “He hasn’t played much of late.”
Anthony Black and Makhi Mitchell each had their usual good game. Black had eight points, four rebounds and six assists. Mitchell added eight points and four rebounds. Jordan Walsh added six points and three rebounds.
Others off the Arkansas bench were Joseph Pinion with five points and two rebounds, Cade Arbogast three points and Derrian Ford added two more.
Arkansas was on fire from the field. The Hogs made 37 of 59 field goals (63 percent) and eight of 13 (62.3) from behind the 3-point line. Arkansas shot 21 free throws, knocking down 17, to 11 for San Jose State. The Razorbacks forced 18 turnovers compared to only having 11. They outscored San Jose State 32-12 in points off turnovers. The rebounding was close with Arkansas pulling down 32 to 29 for the opponent.
Amari Moore topped the visitors with 21 points. Sage Tolbert added 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds while Ibrahima Diallo contributed 10 in the scoring column. San Jose State shot 40 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the 3-point line.
The Razorbacks move to 7-1 on the season while San Jose State fell to 6-3. Arkansas will be at home again on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. when UNC Greensboro comes to Bud Walton Arena. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. UNC Greensboro took a 3-5 record into its game on Saturday against Elon.