BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
FAYETTEVILLE – Troy head coach Scott Cross has taken his team to both Florida State and Arkansas early this season and thus has informed assessments of his team and that pair of Power 5 schools.
Troy took down the Seminoles 79-72 on Nov. 14 and led Arkansas by three inside the final seven minutes Monday night at Bud Walton Arena.
But the Ricky Council-fueled No. 11 Razorbacks (6-1) went on a 17-0 run in which it held the Trojans (6-2) scoreless for just under six minutes to grab a 74-61 win.
“Beating Florida State gave us some confidence, but Arkansas and Florida State is like apples and oranges,” Cross said. “Arkansas is a legitimate top 10 team and Florida State is really, really struggling and trying to find its identity.
“We have watched Arkansas and they have crushed teams and also played some of the best teams in the country. This was a legit test for us and we are not going to play much better than Arkansas.
“To be able to go toe-to-toe with them for the majority of the game, I think bodes well for the future, especially since we were shorthanded.”
Cross, whose team played without leading scorer Duke Miles (14.0), will look at the game as a missed opportunity.
“I was pleased with our performance for most of the game, but it is so frustrating because you are so close with six minutes to go, and you can feel it, like if we just play tough that we can win this game,” Cross said. There is a reason why they ranked in the Top 10 in the country and they made the plays down the stretch, pull away and beat us pretty handily.
“I felt like we had the lead for 20 minutes and we were probably the better team for 25 minutes and they were the better team for 15 minutes. But they beat us by 13 or whatever it was and hats off to them. They are a great basketball team.”
Troy visits SIU-Edwardsville on Saturday before traveling to play San Diego State on Monday.
Arkansa beat San Diego State 90-87 in overtime last week in the Maui Classic.
“Playing on the road is not easy no matter where it is at,” Cross said. “We know we have a tough one in SIU and it is now going to get any easier when we go up to San Diego State.
“They are similar to Arkansas and are one of the best defensive teams in the country. We will have to play our best basketball to get a win.”
Council had 19 of his game-high 27 points after a first half that saw Troy take a 32-31 lead into intermission.
“I am super proud of our guys,” Cross said. “They played as hard as we could of. I thought we did kind of get them out of rhythm a little bit with our 2-2-1 zone, buit Council kind of took over down down the stretch.”
Council was 12-of-18 from the field while playing 39 minutes while Anthony Black – who played all 40 minutes – and Makhi Mitchell both added 14 points.
Mitchell had 9 rebounds, Black 8 and Kamani Johnson 8 points in game where celebrated freshman Nick Smith made his college debut coming off an injury and was scoreless in six minutes.
Arkansas was also without junior guard Devo Davis, who is taking some time off according to a press release.
“We watch him (Council) on film and you want to try and contain him and not let him get going, but once he found his rhythm there was not much we could do,” Cross said. “Pretty much all you can do is double him and that presents its own problems.”
Council’s deep 3-pointer as the shot clock ran down with 4:32 left gave Arkansas a 62-58 lead.
He would have 11 points during the 17-0 spree.
“Some of those that he made during the game you could live with, but he is a big-time player and made those shots tonight,” Cross said. “You were going to have to limit what he does and what Anthony Black does and we did a good job for the majority of the game, but when Council did start hitting those it gave them a big lift.
“I think the 40-foot shot he hit with the shot clock running down kind of sealed that game for them.”
Cross is in his third season at Troy.
“I am super proud to be their coach,” Cross said. “They are so tough and they are so resilient and we are so short-handed. We came into this game and had basically like six guys. As a coach, that is all you can ask for.
“I am so intense on the sideline and I told them in the locker room that the reason I am so intense is because they are tough. They are really tough, but we can be tougher.
“We are so close to being great and we have just got to let it all out. Once our guys figure that out and flip that switch to be just a little bit tougher, we can play with anybody in the country.
“I do believe it is going to happen and I know it is going to happen. Our guys just have to go to let loose. We have another one on Saturday with SIU_Edwardsville and that is a chance for redemption.”
Nate Tshimanga was injured late in the half and carted off on stretcher after the teams went to the locker room for halftime.
“He just got hit really hard when there was a collision with an opposing player,” Cross said. “I could see when Nate was down that he was totally out, unconscious. He definitely has a concussion and hopefully can get well soon.
“We need him. He is a good player and brings some toughness and size. He is our biggest, strongest guy and not having him, especially as our guys were wearing down in the second half made the difference.”
Photo by John D. James