By Kevin McPherson

The 9th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks may or may not have revenge on their minds when they get to a long awaited rematch this Saturday, but first they had to be careful not to look past Tuesday’s opponent, North Carolina-Greensboro, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. It was ugly for all 40 minutes, but the Hoop Hogs grinded their way to a 65-58 come-from-behind win over the visiting Spartans.

With its fourth consecutive victory — and sixth win while holding its opponent below 60 points — Arkansas (8-1) now turns its attention to the Oklahoma Sooners for a non-conference neutral-site game to be played in Tulsa on Saturday, a rematch of last season’s December tilt during which the Sooners blew out the Razorbacks, 88-66.

Against UNCG on Tuesday, freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr. led the way for the Razorbacks with a game-high 22 points (including 9-of-11 free throw shooting) to go with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in a game-high 39 minutes. Senior forward / center Makhi Mitchell had his first double-double as a Hog — 13 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. Junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis also had a double-double — 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 steals. Freshman guard Anthony Black finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block. Junior combo guard Ricky Council IV, the SEC’s leading scorer coming in, only had 8 points but made 6-of-6 at the foul line.

The Hogs — they trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half — won the game at the free throw line, making 23-of-27 (85.2%) in the second half and finishing 26-of-33 for the game (78.8%) compared to the Spartans’ 7-of-11 at the foul line (63.6%).

Arkansas took the lead for good, 51-49, on Davis’ two made free throws with 4:04 to play, and though Black’s three-pointer made it 54-49 for the Hogs’ biggest lead at the 3:07 mark, UNCG struck back with its own triple to pull within 54-52 with just over two minutes to play.

But Council made two free throws to extend the Hogs to a 56-52 advantage at the 1:48 mark, then Smith collected a steal and went coast-to-coast for an and-one layup that sent the Hogs ahead 59-52 with 1:29 to play. From there, two three-point plays — an and-one conversion and a triple — allowed Greensboro to pull within a one-possession deficit, 61-58, with 21 seconds to play, but Council and Smith combined to go 4-of-4 at the free throw line in the final 19 seconds to seal the Razorbacks’ victory.

Arkansas made all 9 of its free throw attempts in the final 4:04 of the game.

“Often times you have one guy have an off night, or two guys, and all the credit goes to UNCG from a defensive standpoint, but we had a lot of guys just not play as well as they have been,” fourth-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “And they all kind of did it in one game … Not all, but many. But I thought down the stretch our guys played composed. We talked yesterday a long time about five seniors (for UNCG) coming in here, and I thought their team came in with great confidence. I thought they played with great maturity.

“And for us, maybe we didn’t handle the great second half that we had against San Jose State and put that behind us and understand how hard it is to go and earn every win. It’s part of our growth with 11 new players. But certainly down the stretch we played well enough to win the basketball game.”

The Hogs have proven over and over again to be a better second-half team than a first-half team, and that goes for both sides of the ball. In their last two games counting Saturday’s 99-58 romp over San Jose State at BWA, the Hogs combined to score 61 first-half points before dropping a collective 103-point second-half hammer.

Against UNCG on Tuesday, the Hogs shot 18-of-54 of from the field (33.3%), including 3-of-18 from 3 (16.7%). Defensively, Arkansas held Greensboro to 21-of-67 field goal shooting (31.3%), including 9-of-28 from 3 (32.1%).

Arkansas won the rebounding battle (47-39) while holding slight advantages in points-in-the-paint (28-24), fastbreak points (8-6), and second-chance-points (3-2). UNCG won the turnover battle (12-9) and poinst-off-turnovers (9-6), although the Hogs were plus-4 in points-off-turnovers in the second half (4-0).

Sophomore forward and sixth man Trevon Brazile (13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game coming in) played only 9 minutes and went down at the 7:30 mark of the first half with an apparent lower leg injury, was helped off the court, and later returned to the bench although he did not return to the game. When asked during his postgame press conference, Musselman declined to give an update on Brazile’s status.

“No, there won’t be any update until he gets with the medical people tomorrow (Wednesday) and they’re able to MRI it or X-ray it,” Musselman said. “So we won’t know until tomorrow.

Arkansas is now 6-0 at home (2-1 in neutral-site games). The Hogs are now 2-0 all-time against UNCG.

The Spartans (4-6) were led by wing Donovan Atwell’s 12 points (4-of-4 from 3) and 3 steals, point guard Dante Treacy’s 11 points and 5 rebounds, and guard Kobe Lnagley’s 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.

Musselman is now 81-29 overall leading the program, which includes a 45-7 mark 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.

Musselman started Smith, Black, Council, Mitchell, and freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh against UNCG on Tuesday.

Smith had 4 points and an assist to establish Arkansas to a 6-5 lead, but the Hogs would go scoreless for over 7 minutes as UNCG methodically crafted a 17-4 run for a 22-10 lead late in the first half.

The Hogs would close the first 20 minutes by outscoring the Spartans 11-4 to pull within 26-21 at the break.

Arkansas shot 9-of-30 from the field in the opening half (30.0%), but missed all 8 of its three-point shot attempts. The Hogs made only 3-of-6 at the free throw line.

UNCG was 9-of-31 on field goals (29.0%), but the Spartans made 4-of-15 from 3 (26.7%), while making 4-of-7 at the foul line (57.1%).

The Hogs were plus-6 on the glass (27-21) but minus-4 in turnovers (9-5) while finishng the first 20 minutes minus-7 in points-off-turnovers (9-2).