By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — No. 14 Arkansas easily passed its first dress-rehearsal test with a dominant and convincing 92-39 exhibition win over Division II Texas-Tyler on Friday at Bud Walton Arena.
Despite star sophomore forward and preseason All SEC first-team selection Trevon Brazile playing off the bench and highly regarded transfer guard Khalif Battle also checking in as a reserve with senior forward Jalen Graham (back spasms) out of the lineup entirely, the Razorbacks jumped out to quick 12-2 lead and cruised to the victory circle from there while playing a smothering defense inside and out, getting out in transition and scoring, and stifling the visitors in the turnover game (20-7 including 12 steals, which translated to a 22-5 advantage in points-off-turnovers).
All 14 available Hogs played.
Battle led three Hogs in double-figure scoring with 14 points (4-of-7 field goals, including 2-of-3 from 3, and 4-of-4 free throws) while transfer wings Jeremiah Davenport (3-of-7 from 3) and Tramon Mark had 13 and 10 points, respectively. Brazile — he first checked into the game at the 14:40 mark of the first half — finished with 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 block in 19 minutes.
Senior transfer guard El Ellis scored 7 points in the Hogs’ fast start and finished with 9 points to go with game-highs of 4 assists and 4 steals plus 3 rebounds. Sophomore wing Joseph Pinion also scored 9 points (3-of-7 from 3) as did preseason All SEC second team pick Davonte “Devo” Davis, who also contributed a game-high 7 rebounds to go with 3 assists and 2 steals. Senior big man Makhi Mitchell also chipped in 9 points (3-of-3 field goals and 3-of-3 free throws) and added 4 rebounds off the bench.
Senior transfer 3/4-combo forward Chandler Lawson started and had 3 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal; senior forward Denijay Harris contributed 6 points and 3 rebounds; freshman guard Layden Blocker had 5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal in a team-high 21 minutes; and freshman center Baye Fall started and had 6 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal.
Defensively, Arkansas held UTT to 13-of-53 shooting from the field (24.5%), including 1-of-20 from 3 (5.0%). The Patriots made 12-of-17 at the foul line (70.6%).
In addition to their aforementioned lopsided advantages in turnovers and points-off-turnovers, the Hogs won rebounding (46-32), second-chance-points (16-11), fastbreak scoring (16-6), points-in-the-paint (34-20), and bench scoring (61-24).
Offensively, the Razorbacks made 31-of-64 field goals (45.6%), including a staggering 11-of-34 from 3 (32.4%) when considering the Hogs took less than 16 triple attempts per game a season ago. Arkansas was outstanding at the free throw line — 19-of-23 on freebies (82.6%).
With so much going right for the Hoop Hogs out of the gates on Friday night, the most noteworthy takeaway was the return of Brazile to game action (he last played in early December 2022).
“He played 19 minutes, which coming into the game, the thought process was really between 4 and 6 minutes a half,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “So he went a little bit over the plan coming into the game. But he felt good. I think he knew he needed the reps. We certainly felt like he needed the reps. We just don’t go live that much. We practice a little bit more like a football team where we’re in stations and drill work.
“He misses a little bit of live action based on how we go about practice. He’s still got a ways to go conditioning-wise. You saw the explosiveness on the dunk, which we’ve seen. And he was really good the other day when we went live in pro day. I think it’s just a matter of getting his timing back. But he wanted to stay out there, which is a great sign as well.”
Next up, the Hoop Hogs will host a highly anticipated matchup, albeit a charity exhibition game, against 3rd-ranked and Big Ten powerhouse Purdue on Oct. 28 (3 p.m. CT, BWA, SEC Network-plus livestream) before opening their regular season at home against Alcorn State on Nov. 6.
Musselman improved to 6-1 in exhibition games at Arkansas, which now includes a 4-0 mark against D2 schools with the lone loss coming on the road against then-AP-Top-25-ranked Texas last season in late October.
Musselman started Pinion (Morrilton native), Ellis, Mark, Lawson, and Fall.
Ellis scored the Hogs’ first bucket and had 7 of his team’s first 12 points as Arkansas jumped ahead 12-2 and poured it on from there.
Davenport led the Razorbacks’ first-half scoring with 11 points (included 3-of-5 shooting from 3 and 2-of-2 free throws).
Arkansas led 45-12 at the break, shooting 16-of-35 from the field (45.7%), including 5-of-18 from 3 (27.8%), and 8-of-10 at the foul line (80%).
Defensively, the Razorbacks held UT-Tyler to 5-of-25 field goal shooting (20%) in the first 20 minutes, including 0-of-8 from 3. The Patriots made both of their first-half free throw attempts.
The Hogs owned the turnover battle (14-2) with 10 steals and dominated points-off-turnovers battle (9-0) while also winning fastbreak points (7-0), points-in-the-paint (18-8), and rebounds (18-14) in the opening half.