The No. 16 Arkansas Razorbacks’ first 2021-22 tune-up was bumpy, uncomfortable, and downright scary for 40 minutes as the Hogs trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half against NCAA Division II East Central University (Ada, Okla.), but Arkansas responded with a huge rally in the final ten minutes to defeat the game Tigers, 77-74, on Sunday at Bud Walton Arena.
Down 60-46 with 11:02 to play, the Razorbacks closed the show with a 31-14 run to win a nail biter as guards Devo Davis (20 points, five rebounds, three assists, one steal, three turnovers) and JD Notae (17 points) led five Hogs in double-figure scoring while senior wing Au’Diese Toney had a double-double (ten points and 15 rebounds). Sophomore big man Jaylin Williams chipped in ten points, nine rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and two steals. Senior guard Chris Lykes had 13 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals.
Davis put the Hogs up for good, 73-72, by going 2-of-2 from the free throw line with 50.9 seconds left in the game.
The Hogs led by five points, 69-64, on Davis’ dunk late, but an 8-2 ECU run put the Tigers up 72-71 with under a minute to play in the game. From the one-minute mark before halftime until the 5:09 mark of the second half, ECU held the lead.
“I think our point guard play is of concern right now,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said during his post-game press conference. “Who is our primary point guard? Our 4-spot I’m concerned about without having Kamani (Johnson) and eithout having Trey Wade. Those are two guys that are primary 4-men, so I think we missed them a little bit.
“And then defensively as a staff, we have to do a better job because we have some guys that maybe are not individual defenders like some of our guys last year. I mean Jalen Tate and Justin Smith just locked people up, and we don’t have those individual defenders.”
Toney was relieved his Hogs salvaged a win.
“It was very big,” Toney said. “It’s just the simple fact anybody can beat anybody if they want it more. They came out in the first half and wanted it more than we did. We got too relaxed.
“Second half, we picked it up and we got our edge back on D. That’s our bread and butter, and that’s obviously why we came out with the win.”
Arkansas won fastbreak scoring (23-3), points-in-the-paint (46-32), and points-off-turnovers (18-10), and though the Hogs won the offensive rebounding battle (17-8) it was ECU that won second-chance points (17-12).
The Razorbacks shot 29-of-66 from the field (43.9%), including a dismal 2-of-16 from three (12.5%). Arkansas also struggled from the foul line, shooting 17-of-29 (58.6%). ECU was 26-of-59 field goal shooting (44.1%), including 8-of-23 from 3 (34.8%), and 14-of-17 from the free throw line (82.4%).
“I am overly shocked at how poorly we shot the ball from the free throw line and from three,” Musselman said. “Behind closed doors we have not seen lack of shooting like we did today.”
Tigers big man Josh Apple led his team with 23 points while guard Jalen Crutchfield — he’s the son of former Hogs associate head coach and former ECU head coach Chris Crutchfield — contributed 15 points.
It was the first of two exhibition games for the Hogs before the start of the regular season in just over two weeks.
Musselman is now 3-0 in exhibition games at Arkansas, which includes home wins over in-state Division 1 Little Rock (79-64 on Oct. 20, 2019) and Division II Southwestern Oklahoma State (78-51 on Oct. 25, 2019) two seasons ago. The Hogs did not play exhibition games in ’20-21 due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The Razorbacks still have one more exhibition tune-up to go — against Division 1 North Texas of Conference-USA on Saturday, Oct. 30, with tipoff set for around 4 p.m. at BWA. Arkansas begins regular-season play against Mercer on Nov. 9 at BWA.
Arkansas started Davis, Williams, Notae, Toney, and senior combo forward Stanley Umude.
As Musselman explained, Arkansas was without the services of veteran transfer forwards Wade and Johnson — both have been battling injuries.
In the first half, Notae scored five points to spark an 8-3 Hogs run that gave Arkansas a 16-10 lead, but ECU went on an impressive 16-5 run for a 26-21 lead at the 4:05 mark.
Davis, who led Arkansas with 8 first-half points, scored six points in the last three minutes of the half as the Hogs pulled within 37-35 at the break.
Both teams shot 14-of-33 from the field ( 43.4%) in the first half, but ECU was 6-of-17 from 3 (35.3%) while the Hogs were only 1-of-9 from distance (11.1%). The Hogs were also only 6-of-13 from the free throw line (46.2%).
Arkansas came into Sunday’s matchup against with one game-like setting under its belt in the form of the program’s annual Red-White game — a 73-64 win for the White team — that was played on Oct. 17 in front of nearly 5,000 fans at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
East Central University is coached by former Arkansas graduate assistant Max Pendery, who was at Arkansas in ’19-20, which was Musselman’s first season as Head Hog.