FAYETTEVILLE – The underdog University of Central Arkansas Bears withstood an 11-0 surge by the 10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks to trail only, 41-35 at intermission a first half the Bears led, 24-23 with 6:38 left.
But an 11-0 opening second half Razorbacks surge UCA could not withstand. Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks romped, 97-60 Wednesday night at Walton Arena. They stand 7-0 headed into hosting the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans at 3 p.m. Saturday at Walton on the SEC Network.
Coach Anthony Boone’s Bears fall to 1-7 and visit Arkansas State at 4 p.m. Saturday in Jonesboro.
“Night and day the way we played from one half to the other,” Musselman said. “I probably was as frustrated as I’ve been in the first half. The second half, very happy with how we played.”
UCA grit and Arkansas’ foul play, or rather foul free throw shooting, kept the Bears in it the first half.
Arkansas only hit 4 of its 15 free throws and finished the half 8 for 20. That blew Arkansas’ chance of a first-half runaway even with the 11-0 run fueled by threes by JD Notae, Jaxson Robinson and Stanley Umude and a Devo Davis deuce after Jaylin Williams stopped a UCAlloose ball scramble break with a blocked shot swatted into the stands.
“I did a front flip trying to get the ball and still didn’t get it,” Davis said of UCA’s breakaway scramble that 6-10 Williams swatted. “I’m glad J-Will had my back because I was so mad I didn’t get it.”
The Bears came back from down 10 to finish the half down, 41-35.
From “abysmal free throw shooting,” to not getting loose balls to allowing UCA too many first-half threes, the Hogs heard it all and then some from Musselman at intermission.
“He left us with some motivational words,” sophomore guard Davis of Jacksonville said postgame. “And you saw we came out with an edge and we got the job done and we got the other guys who don’t get to play a lot, we got them in and they got a feel of the game. We didn’t have that push that we needed in the first half so we had to come out with a momentum push.”
There was no stopping the Hogs on the mainly Au’Diese Toney and Davis fueled 11-0 second-half run after center Connor Vanover scored the half’s first basket inside.
Toney scored five in the run. one on an old-fashioned and-one, and assisted on of Davis’ two buckets for the surge.
Arkansas uncorked an even bigger 12-0 run later in the half.
For the game, Arkansas outscored UCA 29-13 off turnovers, committing only 12 and forcing 25 Bears mistakes including 16 steals, outscored UCA, 60-16 in the paint, and outrebounded UCA, 47-31 with Williams grabbing a career high 13.
““Awesome,” Musselman said. “The thing about Jaylin is he just does what you’re supposed to do to win.
Musselman played 13 players, 11 from 8:36 to Williams’ 27:19 and found room for four scoring double figures.
Forward Umude led with 17, 15 in the first half, and grabbed eight rebounds.
“Well we really needed to punch the ball inside in the mid-post to Stan,” Musselman said of his 6-7 graduate transfer forward via the University of South Dakota, “Because he was providing high-percentage shots, even the ones that didn’t fall for him. He’s really, really good in that mid-range because he can rise over people.”
Forward Au’Diese Toney and Davis each scored 16 and Notae scored 10 with six of Arkansas’ 22 assists.
Musselman apparently got a second half rise out of Toney. The graduate transfer via the University of Pittsburgh and MVP of Arkansas winning last week winning the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City over Kansas State and Cincinnati was not lodged in Musselman’s Wednesday night first half Hall of Fame.
So he was inspired to make second half amends.
“At halftime, I told Au’Diese, ‘You’ve got about a minute and a half.’ That’s 90 seconds to play,” Musselman said. “Because I didn’t think he gave us much of anything in the first half. I thought the second half he came out and attacked the rim as if he did not want to come out of the game.”
Collin Cooper of Fayetteville and the son of former Razorbacks track All-American distance runner Richard Cooper, led UCA with 13 points including 3 of 5 treys.
Bryant’s Camren Hunter, 2 of 5 treys, scored 12 for UCA as did Darious Hall, the well-traveled former Little Rock Mills star who played every game for Coach Mike Anderson’s 23-12 Razorbacks of 2017-2018 then transferred to DePaul University in Chicago and played 32 games there before transferring back close to home at UCA.
Williams of Fort Smith Northside and Jacksonville’s Davis both commented they enjoyed playing against fellow Arkansas native sons at UCA that they had played against in high school and AAU.
“I like playing against guys that I grew up playing against,” Williams said. “It’s a whole different thing. We’re out there having fun talking smack, like friendly smack.”
Likely friendlier than the between halves smack the Hogs heard from their coach.