By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — You don’t have to run through South Dakota to get to Hawaii, but the 9th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks did so any way, blasting past the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, 71-56, on Wednesday to cap a three-game homestand at Bud Walton Arena to open the season before traveling outside the continental United States this weekend for the Maui Invitational tournament.
The Razorbacks used a combined 21-3 end-of-first-half/start-of-second-half run to blow open a 4-point lead, they led by as many as 27 points, they dominated the glass (42-32) and points-off-turnovers (23-11), and once again defensively Arkansas was stifling at times as it held SDSU to 18-of-56 field goals (32.1%), including 3-of-16 from 3 (18.8%), while forcing 20 turnovers.
Arkansas shot 28-of-61 from the field (45.9%), including 7-of-22 from 3 (31.8%), and 8-of-15 free throws (53.3%).
Playing for a third consecutive game to open the season without star freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr. (right knee management, precautionary measure) who led the team in preseason scoring, the Hoop Hogs once again got massive production from junior wing and leading scorer Ricky Council IV (19 points); sophomore forward Trevon Brazile (13 points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double of the season); junior guard Devo Davis (13 points and 3 assists); freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh (10 points and 3 steals); and freshman guard Anthony Black (5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals).
The Razorbacks (3-0) have won going away in each of their games with a combined winning margin of 59 points. The win over SDSU marked the 500th game played all-time at BWA.
Through its first three games, Arkansas has held each opponent below 60 points while limiting each to the 30’s percentage-wise shooting from the field, including in the 20’s (or below) shooting from 3. The Razorbacks have forced 64 total turnovers in the three contests.
“I thought we did a really, really good job defending across the board,” fourth-year Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “They shot 32% for the game and, again, the 3-point defense, holding them to 3 for 16. They also weren’t allowed to get many attempts up because we stayed attached.”
Davis was pleased with the win over a quality mid-major opponent.
“That’s a really good program,” Davis said. “They win games. We knew coming in they could shoot the ball pretty well. They also had dribble-drivers and a few bigs that could post up and draw a lot of fouls. Like I was saying, defense was the big emphasis on this game, and I think we did pretty well.”
Walsh suffered an ankle injury in the second half, limiting him to 16 minutes of game time.
“Obviously, there’s concern right now about his ankle,” Musselman said. “Which is why I didn’t play him more. He was on pace probably to play 30-plus minutes. Unfortunately, he did get hurt. He was playing really, really good.”
Next up for Arkansas is a neutral-site game against Louisville (0-3) on Monday, Nov. 21, in the first round of the Maui Invitational in Hawaii (4 p.m. CT, ESPNU). It will mark the Razorbacks’ first game played away from home during the 2022-23 season.
The Hoop Hogs are now 1-0 all-time against SDSU. The Jackrabbits — a 30-win team (including 18-0 to win the Summit League) in qualifying for the NCAA Tournament last season — dropped to 2-2, which includes a 66-62 win just 24 hours ago against St. Bonaventure.
SDSU’s leading scorer coming in, senior 6-8 forward Matt Dentlinger, was held without a made field goal as he finished with 3 points and 1 rebound. Guard Zeke Mayo and forward Luke Appel each had 9 points to pace SDSU’s scoring.
“I thought we did a really good job of hugging the 3-point line, making their 3-point shooters floor it,” Musselman said. “That was a big part of what we wanted to do. And then we felt like No. 32, Dentlinger, he was their leading scorer, and what were we going to do with a leading scorer? And obviously we held him without a field goal.”
It was the 40th non-conference win at Arkansas for Musselman, who improved to 18-0 in November games coaching the Razorbacks.
Musselman is now 76-28 overall leading the program, which includes a 40-6 record 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.
With Smith out, Musselman started Black, Council, Davis, Walsh, and Mitchell on Wednesday against SDSU, which was the same starting five than he employed in Arkansas’ previous wins over North Dakota State and Fordham, both home games played at BWA.
Trailing 5-4, the Hogs strung together a 12-4 spurt for a 16-9 lead on the strength of Brazile, Council, and Davis each registering multiple baskets.
Davis’ steal at one end and triple at the other extended Arkansas to a 31-21 lead, but the Hogs were slow getting back on defense as SDSU scored in transition to ignite a 6-0 mini spurt with 2:28 left in the first half.
But Musselman called a timeout, made some substitutions, and the Hogs responded by rattling off a 10-0 run for their biggest lead of the first 20 minutes, 41-27. SDSU scored the final first-half bucket to pull within 41-29 at the break.
Council (11 points), Brazile (9 points and 5 rebounds), and Davis (7 points) were the opening-half production leaders for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas shot 18-of-33 from the field (54.5%), including 4-of-10 from 3 (40%), but the Hogs were only 1-of-5 at the foul line (20%).
SDSU made 11-of-28 first-half field goals (39.3%), including 2-of-7 from 3 (28.6%), while hitting 5-of-6 from the free throw line (83.3%).
Arkansas was plus-3 rebounding (19-16), plus-2 in turnovers (11-9), and plus-12 in points-off-turnovers (17-5) in the first 20 minutes.