By Kevin McPherson

FAYETTEVILLE — The 10th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks were shorthanded but laser-focused on attacking the paint and rim as they played to their strengths in a convincing season-opening 76-58 win over unranked North Dakota State on Monday at Bud Walton Arena.

Playing without star freshman guard Nick Smith, Jr. (right knee management, precautionary measure) who led the team in preseason scoring, the Hoop Hogs dominated the action around the basket as the trio of junior wing Ricky Council IV, sophomore forward Trevon Brazile, and junior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis combined for 61 points in the win.

Next up for Arkansas (1-0) is another home game against a mid-major opponent, Fordham, on Friday at BWA (SEC Network Plus).

The Razorbacks made 24 of their total 28 field goals inside the arc — most of that came on quick-burst slashes into the paint for finishes at or near the rim — as they hit nearly 60% of their shots in the second half while finishing the game plus-20 in points-in-the-paint (44-24).

“I thought we had good shot selection,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “I don’t think that we forced shots. I told the team, like, ‘North Dakota State’s defense, it’s compact.’ They don’t cause a lot of turnovers … It’s like a prevent defense almost.”

Arkansas never trailed and would lead by as many as 21 points in the second half as 10 Hogs played in the contest.

A 10-0 NDSU run trimmed that 21-point Arkansas lead to 56-45 midway through the second half, but Davis and Council scored to ignite an 11-4 spurt to stretch the Hogs’ advantage to 67-49 late. NDSU would never pull within striking distance in the closing stages of the game.

Council started and led Arkansas with a game-high 22 points (9-of-14 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 3-of-6 free throws) to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and 1 turnover in 36 minutes.

Brazile had a double-double in his first game as a Hog — 21 points (7-of-14 field goals, including 3-of-6 from 3, and 4-of-5 free throws), a game-high 12 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block in 32 minutes off the bench.

Davis started and finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, and 5 turnovers in a game-high 39 minutes.

Senior forward / center Makhi Mitchell started and had 8 points (4-of-5 field goals), 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 assist in 20 minutes. Freshman guard Anthony Black started and contributed 3 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block in 30 minutes. Freshman combo forward Jordan Walsh had 4 points (1-of-1 field goal and 2-of-2 free throws), 3 assists, and 2 rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench.

Arkansas finished plus-5 in rebounds (40-35) and plus-3 in turnovers (14-11, including 11 Hog steals) while winning points-off-turnovers (20-11). The Razorbacks won bench scoring (25-12) as well.

The Hogs finished the game 28-of-57 shooting from the field (49.1%), which included a sizzling 16-of-27 in the second half (59.3%). Arkansas was 4-of-10 on three-point shots — solid efficiency and preferred economy-sized in volume. The team was 16-of-23 at the foul line (69.6%).

Defensively, the Razorbacks were stingy as they limited the Bison to 19-of-56 field goal shooting (33.9%) including 5-of-21 from 3 (23.8%). The Bison were 15-of-23 at the free throw line (65.2%).

“I thought we played really well,” Musselman said. “When you think about defensively, holding North Dakota State to 30% in the first half from the field, and then overall 33% shooting. We had a goal of trying to hold them to five threes or less. That was written on the board. It was talked about all week.

“So I thought we did a really good job defending the three. We need to get a lot better defending the star player and for them to understand how successful we’ve been over three years defending the other team’s best player.”

Veteran forward Grant Nelson and guard Boden Skunberg led NDSU with 17 points each.

Musselman improved to 4-0 in season-openers at Arkansas. He’s now 74-28 overall as he begins his fourth season leading the program, which includes a 38-6 record 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.

The Hogs entered their season-opener prepared after a week of challenging practices and intense film sessions following their 90-60 charity exhibition game blowout road loss against No. 12 Texas on Oct. 29, a game that concluded the unofficial dress rehearsal preseason.

With Smith out, Musselman started Black, Davis, Council, Mitchell, and senior forward Kamani Johnson on Monday.

Council had two nifty lay-ins and a pull-up 16-foot jumper as the Hogs raced out to a 9-2 lead, but NDSU strung together a 6-0 spurt to pull within 9-8, and from there the teams grinded to a 21-all tie before Davis and Brazile fueled a 13-5 half-closing run as Arkansas led 34-26 at the break.

Council and Davis each had 8 points in the first 20 minutes while Brazile contributed 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block.

Arkansas shot 12-of-30 from the field (40%) in the first half, including 1-of-4 from 3. The Hogs made 9-of-14 free throws (64.3%)

NDSU was 8-of-26 on field goals (30.8%), including only 2-of-12 from 3 (16.7%). The Bison hit 8-of-12 from the foul line (66.7%).

Arkansas, which briefly held a 10-point lead late in the first half, won rebounds (22-20) and turnovers (9-6) in the first 20 minutes.

Photo by John D. James …