FAYETTEVILLE – To hear Eric Musselman tell it, his Razorbacks routed South Carolina last week almost in spite of Jalen Tate, their starting point guard.
“I didn’t think he played very well, at all,” Musselman said. “I thought it was one of his worst games, actually, on the road at South Carolina.”
For Arkansas’ 101-73 victory over the Gamecocks in Columbia, S.C. Tate’s time was reduced to 17:55 as he shot but 1 for 5 from the field, netted but one rebound and committed more turnovers, three, than he dished assists, one.
Obviously the Hogs could have won without him in Columbia.
Just as obviously, they don’t win without him against the Texas A&M Aggies last Saturday at Walton Arena.
In helping overcome a 14-point deficit during the half and still having to overcome the Aggies late in the game and prevail 87-80, Tate scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished four assists, and while seldom off the court, committed but one turnover in 36:44.
“The biggest thing to me with Tate tonight was he played 36 minutes and 44 seconds and had one turnover and led us in defensive rebounding,” Musselman said. “Defensive rebounding was an area that I didn’t think we were good enough tonight at, and he went out and I think he had six defensive rebounds, which was huge for us. Then you add in the fact that he had 4 assists and 22 points, he was phenomenal. The great thing about this team is, it’s going to be somebody different every night.”
It truly is a great thing, says Tate. The 6-6 grad transfer via Northern Kentucky University immediately became the floor leader of these 21-5 Razorbacks and mentor to the backup point guards, starting freshman combo guard Davonte “Devo” Davis, sixth man junior transfer combo guard JD Notae and since injured for the season freshman point guard Khalen “KK” Robinson.
“We know we have a lot of depth,” Tate said. “So it’s not always going to be your night, but you can only control what you can control. Keep working every single day and just play as hard as you can when you go out there on the court.”
And when it’s not your night, just appreciate those who are on like Notae and Davis carrying the point guard load to keep the Hogs winning at South Carolina.
“That’s all you can do at this stage,” Tate said of everyone contributing to Arkansas closing its 13-4 second-place SEC regular season with 11 consecutive SEC victories. “Find a way every single game.”
Tate sure helped the Hogs win this last one and so many others, Arkansas star freshman guard Moses Moody asserts
“We’ve seen it all season,” Moody said. “Jalen Tate is a killer in the mid-range. He can hit shots. He can get to the lane. Tenacious defender. He just came out and showed it when we needed him today.”
Now as the regular season shifts into the postseason high gear of this week’s SEC Tournament (the No. 2 seeded Hogs get a bye to Friday’s quarterfinals in Nashville, Tenn. against Thursday night’s winner between Missouri and Georgia, and the NCAA Tournament beyond it, a SEC Network commentator asked Tate if the mindset changes, too.
“No,” Tate replied. “Mindset stays the same, man. Every game is a must win. And especially now but we’ve been carrying that mindset the whole season so I think that’s why we’ve got 11 straight and I think that’s why we’re going to be riding this wave for the tournament. We’re peaking at the right time.”