Coming in with a 4-5 record and deemed a 20-point underdog Tuesday night, visiting UNC-Greensboro was not expected to put up much of a fight against No. 9 Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena.
But somebody forgot to inform the Spartans and their head coach Mike Jones of that and they pushed the Razorbacks more than anybody else had for 40 minutes this season inside the Basketball Palace of Mid-America.
Nick Smith led Arkansas with 20 points and had several big plays late to rally his team past UNC-Greensboro 65-58 despite the Razorbacks leading for just less than eight minutes.
“I am definitely proud of how they competed and competing for all 40 minutes against a really good team on their home floor and with the crowd the way it was,” Jones said. “Definitely proud of that, but disappointed in the result.”
Jones thinks having an older team was and advantage against the youthful Razorbacks (8-1), who got double-doubles from Makhi Mitchell (13 points, 14 rebounds) and Devo Davis (10 points, 10 rebounds) while Anthony Black added 11 points and 5 rebounds.
“We are a veteran team,” Jones said. “Arkansas is young and they have a lot of freshmen and sophomores that are playing. For us, we have a lot of juniors and seniors so they should be mentally tough because they have been through a lot of college basketball games and seen a lot of stuff so they shouldn’t be intimidated by anything. They just should just be able to use their experiences they have had and compete.
“Tonight was one of the first games this year that we have done it for 40 minutes. We have done it in stretches, but we haven’t had that mental toughness and mental focus for 40 minutes before tonight and tonight we did.”
UNC-Greensboro led by as much as 12 points in the opening half and led 26-21 at the break while limiting Arkansas to season-low point total before intermission.
The Razorbacks shot just 18 of 54 (33.3 percent) from the field overall, missed all eight of their first half 3-pointers and ended the night 3 of 18 (16.7 percent) from beyond and cashed in 26 of 33 are throws (78.8 percent).
The Spartans also kept the Razorbacks to just 8 fast break points and had 9 turnovers while forcing the hosts into 12 miscues.
“To their credit I think their point guard (Black) getting in trouble really affected their effectiveness on offense, but I thought our defense was locked in and engaged and I think we understood what their advantages were and we were able to keep them out of the lane and keep them out of transition.
“I think we only turned it over five times in the first half and they love those run outs, which are hard to guard with their athleticism. I thought we were able to take care of the ball, which had a lot to do with us being able to guard them 5-on-5 on most of their possessions.”
Arkansas had nine blocks in the contest on night when the visitors shot 21 of 67 overall, 9 of 28 from 3-point range and 7 of 11 on its charity tosses.
“We know that we had some quick guards and once we got past them and get to the rim, we knew help was coming,” Jones said. “I think they set a record for blocked shots. They probably had 9 or 10 and we were a little bit stubborn when it came to that.
“We wanted to just attack the rim, but also if the help came to just share the ball. When we share the ball, we are a good offensive team. I thought ther were stretches where we did and we did, we got good shots and when we didn’t, we got our shot blocked or took tough shots.”
The Razorbacks had a 47-39 rebound advantage, but were limited to the same number of eight offensive rebounds as the Spartans.
“That was kind of the key to neutralizing their length on the defensive end and offensively we had a body on a body and were being as physical as we could to not let them get to the offensive boards.”