FAYETTEVILLE – As an Arkansas team previously struggling to defend 3-point shots vs. a Kansas State Wildcats previously hitting threes in sprees, the Razorbacks flipped the form charts and the Wildcats in Monday night’s first-round game of the Hall of Fame Classic at T-Mobile Arena in Kansas City.
The now 4-0 13th-ranked Razorbacks had K-State shooting 0 for 10 first-half threes while leading K-State 42-24 at intermission for an 18-point cushion that the 2-1 Wildcats, did second half deflate to just six before succumbing, 72-64.
At 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2, Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks play in the Hall of Fame Classic championship game against the 5-0 Cincinnati Bearcats, rallying from down 15 to stun 14th-ranked Illinois, 71-51 in Monday night’s first first round game.
Illinois, 2-2, and Kansas State will play Tuesday’s 6 p.m. consolation game on ESPNews.
Even as K-State second-half rallied Monday night, the Wildcats of the Big 12 finished just 3 of 22 shooting threes.
“We had a focus of no 3-balls and they go 3 for 22,” Musselman said. “So I think we’ve solved we can guard the three but now we’ve got to guard the dribble drive, too. Because once we started taking away the three they ended up just trying to dribble drive on us.”
Chris Lykes, Arkansas’ little 5-7 sixth man guard grad transfer via the University of Miami shooting 10 for 10 big free throws down the stretch, echoed the game opening 3-point emphasis.
“We made sure we ran them off the line and I think we did a good job limiting them to three threes,”Lykes said. “But a shoutout to K-State, man. They definitely fought hard and they weren’t going away.”
And depending on point of view, defended against the three equally well or shot it equally poorly. Arkansas, hitting 40 percent of its threes for its first three games, also hit 3 of 22 treys in Kansas City.
“You know they shoot 3 for 22 also so it’s kind of ironic,” K-State Coach Bruce Weber said. “Real intense game, very physical game. And sometimes it’s, it’s hard to play that way and shoot the ball, relax like you need to.”
The big difference was Arkansas’ first half defense and first half offense (“Phenomenal,”Musselman said other than for shooting threes) and the Hogs’ 27 of 34 free throws to K-State’s 17 of 23.
Arkansas center Connor Vanover, scoring a game high 14 points as did Lykes and Wildcats Selton Miguel and Nijel Pack, made K-State pay from the first half free throw line, 8 of 9.
The Hogs kept the ball in Lykes’ hands with K-State fouling down the second half stretch. Lykes obliged with that perfect 10 for 10 including 6 for 6 after K-State cut the lead to six.
“I try not to think too much,” Lykes said of shooting free throws. “It’’s a routine that I’ve been practicing since I was seven years old.”
Lykes’ practice made perfect in Kansas City.
“He (Lykes) is so good from the foul line,” Musselman said. “I thought the foul shooting of he and Connor – you could kind of say they won the game.”
Forwards Au’Diese Toney, the graduate transfer via the University of Pittsburgh, and Stanley Umude, the graduate transfer via the University of South Dakota, certainly helped. Toney tallied 13 points with nine rebounds and a steal.
Umude scored 10 with four boards, two steals and a blocked shot.
“People just don’t talk about Au’Diese Toney,” Musselman said. “Phenomenal rebounder offensively with six boards, nine total boards, 13 points … we run no plays for him, and he’s 4 of 8 from the field. Really did a great job. I thought Stanley Umude did a great job, too. Toney and Umude gave us a huge lift without a question.”
Big men Vanover, 7-3, and Jaylin Williams, 6-10 “played really, really good together,” in the first half, Musselman said.
Musselman’s attention postgame immediately turned to the Cincinnati team he scouted vs. Illinois.
“Really well coached, play really, really hard,” Musselman said. “Scrappy, toughness. They’ve got a wing that can score it. I thought their point guard play tonight was really, really good. I thought they looked like a team that had really, really good chemistry. Really, really impressive second half by Cincinnati against a really, really talented Illinois team. I was really impressed with Cincinnati.”