Hogs Defeat Elon

Razorback junior forward Kamani Johnson (#20) from Brooklyn, NY drives the baseline against Elon Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, AR.

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE- Down 26-21 Tuesday night and bumbling like a team capable of losing its third straight, the resurgent Razorbacks erupted for a 17-0 run in the first half’s final 6:11 for an insurmountable, 38-26 intermission lead they  second-half parlayed into an 81-55 romp over the Elon University Phoenix at Walton Arena.

Tuesday’s triumph ups Arkansas, tumbled from 24th to out of the rankings following consecutive Saturday  embarrassing 88-66 losses to Oklahoma in Tulsa and 89-81 to Hofstra in North Little Rock, to 10-2.

Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks are off for a brief Christmas break before reassembling Saturday night in Fayetteville to start preparing for their Dec. 29 SEC opener at Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss.

The Phoenix of the same Colonial Athletic Association from which Hofstra sprung its upset over Arkansas at Simmons Bank Arena, falls to 3-10 amid a brutal schedule that has included Duke, North Carolina, Florida, West Virginia and now at one time No. 10 Arkansas. Elon next hosts Colonial Athletic Association member Northeastern, Dec. 29 in Elon, N.C.

Musselman shook things up debut starting transfers Chris Lykes, normally the sixth man via the University of Miami, leading Arkansas Tuesday with a game-high 21 points, and reserve forward Trey Wade via Wichita State, and guard Jax Robinson, via Texas A&M.

Robinson scored a season high 14 points including 3 of 6 treys. Wade tallied a blue-collar seven points and five rebounds while blocking three shots.

Reserve forward Kamani Johnson, the transfer forward from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, started the second half for the first time after a strong first half during the 17-0 run. Johnson posted his so far Razorbacks career game.  The 6-7, 235 forward scored his Razorbacks career high 15 points, grabbling six boards and matching Wade’s three blocked shots. Johnson’s 15 points was matched by JD Notae, restored to the starting lineup after not starting against Hofstra.

Sophomore point guard Devo Davis, not starting for the first time this season, concentrated on playmaking with a superb six assists/six rebounds effort even while taking but one shot.

Davis had led a players only meeting trying to lift the Hogs from their doldrums.

Obviously they didn’t lift right away trailing with 6:11 left in the half.

We just all looked at each other and we decided enough is enough with the slow starts,” Johnson said. “We have to dominate. That’s what we showed. We’re dogs, so we have to be dogs on the court.”

The dogs having their day this night included a pack with Johnson, Wade and Jaxson Robinson that hadn’t been much unleashed.

“I thought it changed at 6:11,” Musselman said. “Had some guys that hadn’t had an opportunity to play a lot. And they were hungry, and they played. Some of the other guys who have had a lot of opportunity need to play with more energy because you cannot win in the SEC unless you have toughness and you play with great energy and you have a competitive will to win. You can’t win in this league unless you possess all those qualities.”

Musselman said the Hogs’ surge inspired the crowd though Johnson asserts it actually was the other way around.

With the game in progress and thus the dee jay playing canned noise silenced and the promotions pitching announcer muffled, too, the crowd took it upon itself to raise the roof when the Phoenix couldn’t rise a shot off Johnson’s block followed by a Jax Robinson trey for a 28-26 lead at 4:27.

“Honestly it was the fans, man,” Johnson said, “They gave us a big push. I know when I got my block in and Jax hit a  three right after me the arena just erupted. So we just fed off the fans. I mean we appreciate them. They stuck with us.  We had two tough losses and the crowd today was amazing for us. The people on the baseline, the student section, everybody was just into it. We just feed off that energy. We just fed off of them.”

The feeding frenzy continued throughout the second half.

Obviously we started a different group to start the second half as well,” Musselman said. “We went with the same group that ended on that 15-0 or 16-0 run or whatever it was (17-0 actually) at the end of the first half. I thought that Kamani played really well. I thought that Jaxson opened up the floor with his three-point shooting. And then our ability to draw free throws attempted (29 of 35, including Lykes’ 12 of 12,  to Elon’s total  5 of 9). And then Trey Wade from a defensive standpoint and effort. Kamani with the three blocks, Trey with the three blocks. We looked way more active from a defensive standpoint. Blocking shots, getting loose balls. Range rebounding — rebounding out of our area.”

Outrebounded the last two games by Oklahoma and Hofstra, the Hogs were back to erasing the boards, 41-27. 

Other than 6-8 forward Michael Graham, 14 points hitting 7 of 9 from the field, and 6-0 guard Darius Burford, 12 points including 2 of 4 treys, the Phoenix found it hard to rise at Walton.

While Musselman still hasn’t forgotten the wounds from the Oklahoma and Hofstra losses and forecast more watching Mississippi State film than celebrating the holidays into Saturday, he left Walton Tuesday feeling far better about his team’s time off than he would have previously.

“It’s by far the best game we’ve played all year,” Musselman said. “I thought we played really, really good basketball for about 30 minutes tonight. Really good basketball. I thought our team played with great joy.”

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