By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – After starting the SEC skidding 0-3, the Arkansas Razorbacks rise an up and at ‘em 2-3 in the SEC heading into tonight’s SEC game with South Carolina.
At 6 p.m. televised by the SEC Network, the Razorbacks, 12-5 overall, host Coach Frank Martin’s 10-6, 1-3 Gamecocks at Walton Arena.
With Eric Musselman still recovering from last Thursday’s major shoulder surgery, assistant coach Keith Smart, a former NBA head coach and a former Musselman NBA assistant, head coaches the Hogs.
Smart coached Arkansas’ 65-58 SEC upset over nationally No. 12 LSU last Saturday in Baton Rouge after Musselman piloted last Wednesday’s 87-43 massacre of Missouri at Walton then plunged into Thursday’s surgery.
Given Arkansas’ up against the wall last week urgency last week especially reinforced by LSU’s ranking and prowess, does Smart sweat the Hogs losing intensity comfortable at home against a Gamecocks team wearing the underdog’s shoes the Razorbacks wore into Baton Rouge.
“We shared with the team yesterday — what do you think South Carolina’s thinking?” Smart said Monday. “Hey, here’s a team, Arkansas, backs are against the wall and they had a big impressive win against Missouri. They went to LSU and they won. So South Carolina’s probably saying the same thing from a teaching standpoint, we can do the same thing they did.”
South Carolina Coach Frank Martin’s teams have always been known to battle regardless the opposition’s status.
“Here’s a team coming in that’s going to be desperate, a team that has their back against the wall,” Smart said. “And if you don’t go out and try to impose your will on the game you can allow this team to play with you. Because they don’t care what you just did. It’s all about getting ready to play this game here.”
Arkansas sophomore guard Devo Davis determined himself willing to bite off more than he can chew. Spitting out a tooth dislodged during his face first fall at LSU, Davis only momentarily left the game he returned to finish before next day’s dental work restoration and Monday’s dental followup.
“You guys have been around Devo longer than I have and you know how he competes,” first-year Arkansas assistant Smart told media Monday. “He was able just to bring the tooth off to Matt (Townsend, the trainer) and got back in the game and obviously played well.”
Monday’s practice and his mobility during Tuesday’s shoot around will determine the availability of power forward Kamani Johnson, missing the LSU game after spraining his ankle terminating his good start against Missouri.
Arkansas’ lack of rebounding flared in two of its three SEC losses but thoroughly remedied against Mizzou and LSU and needs to stay remedied tonight, Smart said.
“They are a big team.” Smart said. “When a shot goes up they are going to get to the glass. They’ve got a flyer in Keyshawn Bryant. He’s going to be on the perimeter. But anytime there’s a shot or a drive to the basket, he’s chasing that ball to the basket.”
Bryant, 6-5, is deemed the Gamecocks’ best athlete.
Wildens Leveque, the 6-10 center, leads Carolina’s rebounding averaging 5.8 per game.
Erik Stevenson and James Reese, 6-4 transfer guards via the University of Washington and the University of North Texas, lead the Gamecocks’ scoring averaging 11.3 and 10 points per game.
“This kid (Stevenson) can create off the dribble,” Smart said. “He has a long-range game with his 3-point (shooting). He can get to the basket. He’s very crafty off the dribble. So he has a chance to make plays and make shots.”
“Same thing, 3-point shooter,” Smart said. He had a break and he probably had a layup to go to, but because he has super confidence in his 3-point shooting and he pulled up for a 3 and he made the shot.”
Three-point defense was not an Arkansas forte during its SEC skid but improved considerably against Mizzou and LSU.