By Kevin McPherson
Freshman combo guard Nick Smith, Jr., led Arkansas with a game-high 20 points, and once again the Razorbacks feverishly attacked the paint to finish at or above the rim while employing a mostly stingy defense in a 75-54 win over a young but scrappy Orange1 Basket Bassano squad on Saturday in Lake Como, Italy, as the Hoop Hogs remained unbeaten through three of their four European exhibition games.
Arkansas has unofficially totaled 30 dunks through three games on this tour while averaging 94.0 points per outing with a 27.7-point winning margin. Despite extended stretches of sloppy play (turnovers and fouls), the Hogs had a bounce-back game on defense while once again placing an emphasis on determined drives to finish through or above their opponent’s defenders, both in open-court transition and halfcourt offense.
The best example was Arkansas’ 16-0 run in the third quarter that extended an 11-point lead to a 27-point advantage, 62-35, to effectively put the game away as the Hogs had a tip-in, three dunks, and two transition layups after steals in the run. At the other end in that third quarter, the Hogs held their opponent to only 9 points.
The Razorbacks are off to a 1-0 start in Italy after wrapping up the Spain portion of their foreign tour earlier in the week with a 2-0 record. They’ll play one more time in Italy in a matchup against the Bakken Bears at noon CT on Monday, Aug. 15, also in Lake Como, before returning home to Fayetteville on Wednesday, Aug. 17. All games have been live-streamed via FloHoops.com.
“We have a really good sample size of some of our roster players’ strengths and weaknesses, ” said fourth-year head coach Eric Musselman, who went with his third different starting lineup in as many games to give all 13 scholarship players a chance to start in Europe. “When this trip is over, obviously we’ll come back late August, and September, and get right back to work. We’ll have a large sample-size of examples to try to help each player get better individually as well as help our team get better.”
Smith made 8-of-14 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3, and 2-of-2 free throws for his 20 points to go with 4 steals, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, and a boxscore plus-16 in 23 minutes as he was the only Razorbacks to score in double figures. All 15 Razorbacks played and 10 scored.
Freshman guard Anthony Black had 9 points (4-of-7 field goals including 1-of-2 from 3), 3 rebounds, steals, 1 block, ZERO turnovers, and a boxscore plus-21 in 25 minutes. Sophomore stretch-4 Trevon Brazile finished with 9 points (4-of-4 field goals all on putbacks plus 1-of-2 free throws), 7 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 steals, 1 assist, and a boxscore plus-13 in 16 minutes. Junior wing Ricky Council IV contributed 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 turnovers, and a boxscore plus-27 in 23 minutes.
Senior forward Kamani Johnson tallied 7 points, a game-high 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, and a boxscore plus-19 in 16 minutes. Junior guard Devo Davis has 6 points, a game-high 5 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers, and a boxscore plus-9 in a team-high 26 minutes. Freshman wing Barry Dunning, Jr., continues his glue-guy ways with 7 points (3-of-3 field goals and 1-of-2 free throws), 3 steals, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 turnover, and a boxscore plus-13 in 12 minutes.
The Hogs owned the glass (43-30, including a 15-9 edge in offensive rebounds) for a second consecutive game, and though they collected 18 steals they were once again sloppy on offense in finishing only plus-6 in turnovers (26-20) as they had more giveaways than assists (20-17). Arkansas shot 32-of-68 from the field (47.1%), but they continued to struggle from distance (3-of-11 for 27.3%).
Defensively, Arkansas yielded only 16-of-53 from the field (30.2%), including 8-of-26 from 3 (30.8%), in addition to forcing those 26 turnovers. It was the second time in three games in Europe that the Hogs held an opponent below 60 points.
Orange1 Basket Bassano won the free throw battle (14-of-16 for 87.5% compared to the Hogs’ 8-of-14 for 57.1%). UA committed 15 fouls, OBB 14.
“I really like how Devo, AB, and Nick played together,” Musselman said. “When we had ’em in, one of the first things I said was, ‘Hey, you guys kind of share the point guard position. Nobody’s really the point, whoever’s closest to an outlet pass.’ And they did a phenomenal job, thinking that’s it’s only three games in, of kind of sharing it, running different things for each other.
“Really happy with how they executed together, three point guards on the floor at one time.”
Musselman improved to 7-0 all-time in exhibition games as Head Hog, which includes 2-0 marks just prior to each of the ’19-20 and ’21-22 seasons (the Razorbacks did not play exhibition games in the ’20-21 season due to the covid-19 pandemic).
Musselman started the quintet of Smith, Black, Johnson, Derrian Ford, and Makhi Mitchell.
The Hogs opened by scoring the game’s first 7 points in building a very early 11-2 lead as Black hit a right corner three and dunked in transition, but once again the Hogs were inconsistent on defense while suffering turnovers and committing fouls as Orange1 Bassano battled even the remainder of the quarter with Arkansas ahead 24-16 heading into the second quarter.
Behind defensive playmaking and finishes by Black, Smith, and Davis combined with the interior work of Johnson the Razorbacks built a 16-point lead, 41-25, in the second quarter. But a poor finish to the half — multiple missed layups and 1-of-4 free throw shooting down the stretch — led to a 5-0 Orange1 Bassano closing run as Arkansas took a lead of 41-30 into intermission. The Hogs scored only 17 points in the second period.
Black led with 9 first-half points and Smith had 8 points.