By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — The 11th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks were finally at full strength on Saturday at Bud Walton Arena, and the luckless souls to catch freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr., in his first big-impact game as a collegian were the San Jose State Spartans as Smith struck early and effectively to help the Hoop Hogs to a 99-58 rout that marked the 80th triumph for Eric Musselman as Head Hog.
Smith started and finished with 16 points (6-of-14 field goals, including 3-of-5 from 3, and 1-of-2 free throws) , 5 assists, 1 rebound, 1 drawn charge, and zero turnovers in 24 minutes in only his second career game.
His first career made basket was a three-pointer that gave Arkansas a 5-2 lead, and during one stretch in the first half he either scored or assisted on 15 consecutive Hogs points in helping Arkansas to a 40-35 lead at the break.
Once again, the second-half-super-charged Razorbacks turned a tight game at the break into a rout, growing that 5-point halftime lead into a 41-point monster advantage with just under one minute to play.
Smith’s third and final make from three extended the Hogs to a 52-41 lead, its first double-digit advantage, early in the second half. It was part of an overall 26-7 Arkansas run that expanded a three-point lead to 70-48 while effectively putting the game out of reach for SJSU as the Hogs would outscore the Spartans 58-23 in the second half.
Smith (precautionary right knee management) missed the first six games of the season, then played only 6 scoreless minutes in a 74-61 win over Troy on Monday.
“I feel like our team can be scary,” Smith said after the game. “Coming in to the summer-time on the first day, I saw how much talent we had. I feel like we can be the best team in the country. I feel like we can compete for a national title. And I feel like I played OK. I feel like I can play a lot better, but that just comes with time.
“That was actually my real first time getting out there. Just trying to compete, trying to win the game. Yeah, I mean, it was fun.”
Sophomore forward Trevon Brazile led Arkansas’ scorers with 23 points (8-of-9 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 6-of-8 free throws) to go with 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. Junior combo guard Ricky Council IV had 17 points (5-of-6 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 6-of-6 free throws), 3 rebounds, and 3 steals, and senior forward Jalen Graham had 11 points (4-of-5 field goals and 3-of-3 free throws), 6 rebounds, and 2 drawn charges.
Arkansas (7-1) dominated nearly every phase of the game, winning bench points (44-4), points-in-the-paint (52-30), fastbreak points (23-2), turnovers (18-11), points-off-turnovers (32-12), assists (22-8), and rebounds (33-29).
The Hogs had their best shooting performance of the season, making 37-of-59 field goals (62.7%), including 8-of-13 from 3 (61.5%), and 17-of-21 from the free throw line (81.0%).
Defensively, Arkansas held SJSU to 34.6% shooting in the second half, including 18.2% from 3, while forcing 11 second-half turnovers. The Spartans finished 20-of-57 from the field (40.4%), including 6-of-19 from 3 (31.6%), and 6-of-11 at the foul line (54.5%).
For the fifth time this season, Arkansas held an opponent below 60 points.
Freshman guard Anthony Black (8 points, a game-high 6 assists, and 4 rebounds), senior center Makhi Mitchell (8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block), and freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh (6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block) each started and produced for the Hogs.
Junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis returned to the team after missing the Troy game and contributed 3 assists, 1 rebound, and 1 block against SJSU. Reserves Joseph Pinion, Derrian Ford, and Cade Arbogast combined for 10 points on a collective 4-of-6 field goals, including 2-of-3 from 3.
All 15 Razorbacks played.
“I thought we really looked like a connected team,” Musselman said. “We just talked postgame about how with this year’s team you might not know when or where your role might be … But tonight was the first time that full roster was together, and I thought we looked like it the first half.
“I thought we struggled a little bit with trying to figure things out. I know I struggled as well with substitution patterns and stuff. But I thought the second half the guys settled in and they played with great offensive freedom, and I thought we did a better job defensively on No. 10, Omari Moore, who’s a really, really talented offensive player.
Moore led SJSU with 21 points and 4 assists. Forward Sage Tolbert finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Seven-foot Ohio State transfer Ibrahima Diallo had 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Arkansas is back in action at home on Tuesday, Dec. 6, against UNC Greensboro at Bud Walton Arena (6 p.m. CT, SEC Network).
Arkansas is now 5-0 at home (2-1 in neutral-site games). It was the first ever meeting between the Hogs and SJSU.
“I think we’re getting better offensively,” Musselman said. “I really do. When you have as many freshmen as we do, you should be continuing to improve. Just with so many new faces, I knew the first four or five games offensively… Yeah, I think we can keep improving in that area.
“Tonight, I thought we took open threes. You know, 197 passes tonight is close to one of our top passing games. I think when you share the ball and let the game come to you, our percentages are going to go up as well. And Brazile was phenomenal off the bounce as a trail man.”
Musselman is now 80-29 overall leading the program, which includes a 44-7 mark against non-conference opponents. He has a 36-22 record against SEC teams and a 6-2 mark spanning two NCAA Tournaments that culminated in back-to-back Elite Eight runs and back-to-back final national Top 10 rankings.
Musselman started Smith, Black, Council, Walsh, and Makhi Mitchell.
Smith’s three-pointer for his first college score put the Hogs up 5-2, and his aforementioned hand in 15 straight Hog points helped Arkansas to a 32-31 lead.
Council, Brazile, and Walsh would account for the team’s final 8 points of the opening half as the Hogs led 40-35 at the break.
Smith paced Arkansas with 11 points and 4 assists in the first 20 minutes while Brazile had 9 points and Council 7 points.
Arkansas shot 15-of-30 from the field in the first half (50%), including 3-of-6 from 3 (50%), while making 7-of-9 free throws (77.8%).
SJSU made 14-of-31 field goals (45.2%), including 4-of-8 from 3 (50%), and 3-of-6 free throws (50%).
The Hogs were minus-2 on the glass (18-16) but plus-1 in turnovers (7-6).