College Students, get a year of HawgBeat coverage for just $11.95. Request details via email from your school account (.edu) to [email protected]
A freshman provided the spark and a transfer delivered the knock-out blow against Ole Miss on Wednesday.
Davonte Davis scored eight points in a two-minute stretch to put Arkansas on top in the first half and then JD Notae scored 14 second-half points at it pulled away for a 74-59 win over the Rebels at Bud Walton Arena.
After losing back-to-back blowouts at LSU and Alabama, the Razorbacks have won three straight SEC games for the first time under head coach Eric Musselman. This victory improves them to 13-4 overall and 5-4 in conference play.
“How do you respond when you lose two games like that becomes really important,” Musselman said. “We stunk in both of those games, but we regrouped and we’ve handled what we’re supposed to. We’ve won games by playing really hard through 40 minutes.”
Another freshman, Moses Moody, played a key role in a quick start by Arkansas, as he knocked down all three free throws after getting fouled shooting a three-pointer and then made a nice pass to Connor Vanover for a dunk.
That last play led to Ole Miss calling a timeout less than 1.5 minutes into the game and it seemed to refocus its defense. The Razorbacks struggled against the zone early, with Moody committing a couple of turnovers that led to easy fast break layups in a 7-0 run that gave the Rebels a four-point lead.
It was a rough night for Arkansas’ leading scorer, as Moody didn’t make a shot until the final two minutes and matched a career low with only five points - the fewest among the seven Razorbacks who scored Wednesday.
“Sometimes guys just have an off night and tonight, I thought…(Luis) Rodriguez did a good job of trying to deny him,” Musselman said. “When Moses is denied a little bit, what that does is it opens things up for other players, so other guys got shot attempts because it seemed like they really weren’t leaving Moses at all.”
Sure enough, back-to-back three-pointers by Desi Sills and Notae tied it up again and that’s when Davis made his mark on the game.
With the score tied at 13-13, the freshman came up with a steal and took it coast-to-coast for a tough layup through contact. Davis missed the free throw out of a media timeout, but grabbed his own rebound and got a quick jumper.
It was the start of an 11-2 run by the Razorbacks that included two more buckets by Davis - one of which was another fast break layup after a steal.
“I remember we were down four when he came in, had some great stops, great layups, some great shots, and he really turned the whole momentum of the game right there,” Vanover said. “It just took off from there, so he played a huge part, especially in that first half.”
Ole Miss used another timeout, but it didn’t have the same effect this time. The Rebels cut the deficit to five before Jaylin Williams drew a charge and Arkansas turned it into points with a Jalen Tate three-pointer.
The Razorbacks stretched their lead to double digits on a Sills fast break layup that he started himself by knocking the ball loose and coming up with it.
It eventually got to a 12-point margin, with Arkansas taking a 37-25 into halftime. The Rebels missed all nine of their three-point attempts in the first half and committed six turnovers that led to 13 points for the Razorbacks.
After an early Vanover dunk, Davontae Shuler heated up with back-to-back jumpers to bring Ole Miss within 10. The Rebels had a chance to get it to single digits, but Tate came up with a steal and threw it ahead for a dunk by Sills.
Arkansas put it away with a 12-2 run that included Notae scoring the last seven points of the stretch to make it a 20-point game.
It wasn’t until Matthew Murrell made one midway through the second half that Ole Miss hit a shot beyond the arc, as it missed its first 14 three-point attempts and finished just 1 of 16 from deep.
“I thought defensively we understood who their three-point shooters were,” Musselman said. “We ran them off the three-point line like we did last year. I thought it was the first time defensively that we kind of looked like last year’s team from the perimeter.”
However, Tate immediately answered with a three of his own and the Rebels got closer than 15 points just once in the final 12 minutes.
“In order for our team to win games, we have to try and make it a game in the high 50s, low 60s,” Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis said. “It’s just tough for us offensively right now so we have to great in other areas… We needed to hang our hats defensively tonight and 74 (points) was just too many for us right now.”
After scoring just 12 points and making only 2 of 9 shots beyond the arc over the previous three games, Notae finished with 19 points and was 3 of 6 from three-point range. He also did a good job of getting to the free throw line, where he made 8 of 9 attempts.
Musselman praised the Jacksonville transfer for his shot selection and beating his man off the dribble, which was aided by some schematic things Arkansas did in the second half.
“We put the ball in his hands and ran some middle pick-and-rolls with Conner setting it and Conner rolling, instead of popping, because we felt with Connor’s height, he could be a little bit more of a dynamic roller tonight,” Musselman said. “And then when Connor rolled like that, I thought it opened up some one-on-one situations for JD.”
Davis was the Razorbacks’ second-leading scorer, adding six points in the second half to give him 14. It was just the fourth time in his young career that he’s reached double figures and, including his 7-of-9 performance Wednesday, he’s shooting an impressive 65 percent (26 of 40) from the floor.
For the third straight game, and in just his fourth appearance since a quick return from ankle surgery, Justin Smith was also in double figures for Arkansas. He scored 10 points and added six rebounds.
Perhaps the most impressive stat line, though, belonged to Vanover. The 7-foot-3 big man finished with 8 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and 5 blocks. Only four other Razorbacks have reached those three marks in a game the past decade - Daniel Gafford (four times), Moses Kingsley (five times), Bobby Portis (once) and Delvon Johnson (four times).
It was the most blocked shots he’s had since notching six against North Texas in the second game of the season and that doesn’t include the other shots Vanover altered without blocking. He also helped the offense even when he wasn’t scoring.
“Connor was so vital against the 1-3-1 because we just threw the ball over the top to him in the corner,” Musselman said. “Once you get the ball into the corner against a 1-3-1, it flattens that defense out, so Conner was awesome. The stat sheet doesn’t do him justice because I thought his impact on the game was incredible.”
The Razorbacks will step outside of conference play for the final time this season Saturday afternoon when it travels to Stillwater, Okla., to take on Oklahoma State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Tip off is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN2.