By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — This time the Arkansas Razorbacks handled their business as expected against a visiting Division II exhibition-game opponent, striking fast and ferociously en route to a convincing 83-49 tune-up home victory over Rogers State on Monday at Bud Walton Arena, which was quite a contrast to their comeback from a double-digit deficit for a squeaker three-point exhibition-game win a year ago against DII East Central University.
Freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr., scored the first seven points of the game while freshman guard Anthony Black and sophomore forward Trevon Brazile each put on dunk displays in concert with making plays at both ends of the floor with the rest of the Hogs pitching in their share of contributions in the blowout.
Freshman wing Joseph Pinion led the Hogs in scoring with 15 points (4-of-6 from 3 and 3-of-4 free throws); Brazile had 11 points (5-of-6 field goals) to go with 6 rebounds and 4 blocks; Smith finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists; Black had 6 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block; freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh had 8 points, a game-high 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block; and five more Hogs scored between 5 and 8 points in the win.
Arkansas had 21 assists to set up 28-of-47 field goal shooting (59.6%), including 7-of-18 from 3 (38.9%), and 20-of-37 from the free throw line (54.1%). Defensively, the Razorbacks held RSU to 16-of-53 shooting from the field (30.2%), including 3-of-12 from 3 (25%). The Hillcats made 14-of-17 at the foul line (82.4%).
The Razorbacks dominated the glass (42-22), points-in-the-paint (42-14), bench scoring (42-17), transition scoring (19-0), second-chance-points (17-7), and blocked shots (8-1).
RSU won the turnover battle (17-14) but Arkansas won points-off-turnovers (21-15). Both teams had 7 steals.
After averaging 10 dunks per game in four exhibition wins in Europe in August, the Hogs recorded 9 dunks against Rogers State on Monday. Arkansas also converted 11 of 13 layup attempts.
All 13 scholarship Hogs and both walk-ons received clock as 10 players saw at least 11 minutes of playing time.
“It was better than last year’s exhibition game,” fourth-year Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said following the game. “There are some areas we need to get better at, for sure. It’s turning the ball over, which was a problem overseas. The 16 turnovers is troublesome because we want to get a shot on goal. But we only had five in the second half, and it was kind of turnovers off trying to make home run plays.”
The 10th-ranked Razorbacks improved to a perfect 5-0 record in exhibition games counting their four wins in Europe in August. The win over Rogers State marks the only tune-up out of seven total (includes last Sunday’s Red/White intra-squad scrimmage in Barnhill Arena) that will be played at Arkansas’ home venue of BWA. Next up is one more dress rehearsal — an unprecedented exhibition matchup on the road against a high-major opponent in the form of the 12th-ranked Texas Longhorns (3 p.m. CT, Saturday, Moody Center in Austin, Texas).
The Hoop Hogs open their 2022-23 regular season at home against North Dakota State at 7 p.m. CT on Monday, Nov. 7, in BWA (SEC Network Plus).
Musselman improved to 9-0 in exhibition games at Arkansas. In games that count, he is 73-28 overall in his three seasons leading the program, which includes 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.
“We’re going to face taller players, more athletic players, but certainly this DNA of attacking the rim and drawing free throws is a big part of who we are,” Musselman said “We do have some players that you can throw that ball in to with their back to the basket. Like Graham’s got as good of footwork as anybody in college basketball with his spin moves and stuff. He’s gotta be more physical, for sure, defensively, and mix it up a little more from a physical standpoint on the defensive backboards. But from an offensive standpoint, footwork, being able to create angles out of the post, he’s really good.”
Musselman talked about his expectations that his team perform defensively.
“If you want to play, if you want to get on the floor, you’re going to have to play defense with us,” he said. “We’re going to demand it. Obviously the last game in Europe we played about as good of defense as I’ve seen a team play and I thought tonight we were really good, but the level of competition changes drastically on Saturday.”
As expected against Rogers State, Musselman started Smith, Black, and Brazile. After signaling during his Friday press conference that he might bring a couple of players with starter value off the bench to add “pop” to the second unit, he ended up starting Walsh and senior forward Jalen Graham on Monday.
The Hogs led 13-9 early before outscoring the Hillcats 24-11 to take a 37-20 lead at halftime.
Smith (9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists), Brazile (9 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks), and Black (6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block) led the charge in the first 20 minutes as the trio also combined for all five of the first-half dunks for Arkansas.
The Hogs shot a blistering 14-of-22 from the field (63.6%), including a respectable 3-of-8 from 3 (37.5%), but only 6-of-13 from the free throw line (46.2%). Defensively, Arkansas was stifling as RSU managed only 4-of-25 from the field (16%), including 2-of-7 from 3 (28.6%). The Hillcats were 10-of-12 at the foul line (83.3%).
Arkansas dominated the first-half rebounding (25-10) but lost the turnover battle (7-4). The Razorbacks had 10 assists, 7 blocks, and 3 steals in the first 20 minutes.
Rogers State — located in Claremore, Okla., with an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students — came in led by 6-8 senior big man Joey Saracco (last season he averaged 9.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 57.1% field goals, and 72.6% free throws). Coached by Justin Barkley, the Hillcats will enter the ’22-23 campaign looking to replace their two leading scorers that helped the team to a 16-14 overall record (includes a 9-13 mark in the MIAA conference) a year ago.
Saracco finished with 6 points (2-of-8 field goals) and 7 rebounds. The Hillcats were led by guards Sherwyn Devonish-Prince, Jr. (13 points) and Gerren Jackson (11 points).
Rogers State might have come into Monday’s game with some hope that it could compete with Arkansas considering the Hoop Hogs’ result in their only exhibition game against a D2 opponent last season — a come-from-behind 77-74 win over East Central University (also located in Oklahoma) after the Hogs trailed much of the game including by double-digits in the second half.
Musselman substituted liberally throughout that ECU game instead of going with his preference of sticking to a tight 7-8 player rotation. He did much of the same in the first two summer exhibition games in Europe before tightening the rotation a bit in the final two games of the tour.
Through the first 30 minutes against RSU on Monday. Musselman handed out the heaviest amount of playing time to seven players — the aforementioned starters plus juniors Devo Davis and Ricky Council IV.
With 11 newcomers among the 13 scholarship players, the Razorbacks — picked earlier this week by the media to finish second in the SEC behind 4th-ranked Kentucky — are still looking to address problem areas in three-point shooting and turnovers, finding consistency on defense, identifying the right lineup combinations for matchup advantages, and ultimately drilling down to a reliable top 7-8 rotation to start the season.
Photo by John D. James