Arkansas (5-0) rolls over replacement-opponent Southern, 79-44, on Wed at BWA

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Photo Courtesy: University of Arkansas Athletics

The Southern Jaguars effectively traded a game against the nation’s No. 1 team, Gonzaga, for a quick 48-hour-schedule-and-play turnaround matchup at Arkansas, which ended up in a Razorbacks romp, 79-44, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis of Jacksonville came off the bench to lead six Hogs in double figures with 14 points (5-of-8 field goals, including 1-of-1 from 3, and 3-of-3 free throws) to go with 7 rebounds and 2 assists in 18 minutes, and it was his infusion of energy at both ends of the floor in the first half that keyed a 17-0 Hogs run that effectively put the game out of reach at the time, 40-13. The Razorbacks would build a 30-point lead in the second half, 64-34, when Davis scored in the paint, and his finish-and-1 three-point play closed out the game for the final margin. 

“Devo Davis continues to get better and he has an incredible work ethic,” said second-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, who improved to 17-1 in non-conference games at Arkansas while winning his 25th game as Head Hog (against 12 losses). “I thought his reaction to loose balls was phenomenal. He played the 1, 2, and the 3 for us tonight. I thought he was more comfortable at the 2, and even the 3-spot for us. But he rebounded the ball really well, and I thought he had great shot selection as well.”

Davis talked about his most productive game so far as a Hog.

“Coming into the game, not knowing how may minutes I’m going to play, whenever I’m out there I’m just going to play my hardest and try to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” said Davis, who reached double-figure scoring for the first time at Arkansas. “Being patient, waiting on my turn to come in the game and just play hard, defend, and get loose balls is what I’ve been good at so far. Scoring was something I’ve been working on, and it came into play today.”

Freshman guard Moses Moody — the Hogs’ leading scorer on the season — reached double figures for the 5th time in his first 5 games as a Razorback as he had 12 points (5-of-10 field goals, including 2-of-4 from 3) to go with 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block in 26 minutes. Guards JD Notae and Jalen Tate also scored 12 points each while guard Desi Sills (3-of-5 from 3) and combo forward Justin Smith (3 dunks) each chipped in 11 points. Sophomore big man Connor Vanover finished with game-highs in rebounds (9), blocks (3), and steals (3) to go with 3 points.

Arkansas’ 35-point winning margin against Southern matched its average winning margin on the season (35.0) coming into the game, and it was the biggest losing margin so far for the Jaguars, whose previous mark was a 27-point defeat, 103-76, at then-No. 5 Iowa in late November.

Arkansas (5-0) surged back to the top of the SEC in terms of best overall record in the league, while Southern (0-3) lost in its first game played in December. The Hogs improved to 3-0 in the all-time series against the Jaguars, and Wednesday’s win marks Arkansas’ second win against a Southwestern Athletic Conference program this season as the Razorbacks defeated Mississippi Valley State in the season-opener, 142-62, on Nov. 25 at BWA.

Southern was a quick addition to the schedule roughly 48 hours ago, coming a day after Tulsa made a Sunday announcement that it was pausing basketball activities due to Covid-19 issues, which resulted in postponing games against Arkansas and Oral Roberts. The Hogs were set to play their first road game of the season on Tuesday against the Golden Hurricane, but instead hosted a 5th consecutive game at BWA as part of 8 straight non-conference home games that will lead into what by default will become the team’s first road game — the SEC opener at Auburn on Dec. 30. As for the Jaguars, their mid-week game at top-ranked Gonzaga was canceled.

The Hogs came in 12th in the nation in rebounding margin (plus-16.0 per game) and for the 5th time in 5 games they won the rebounding battle (46-39). They were dominant defensively for the second consecutive game, holding Southern to 18-of-63 field goals (28.6%), including 1-of-13 from 3 (7.7%), while forcing 15 turnovers and holding the Jaguars 33 points below their season scoring average of 77.0 points per game. Arkanas shut out the Jaguars’ leading scorer — senior 6-4 guard Ahsante Shivers who came in averaging 16.5 points in 36.5 minutes per game — who was 0-of-9 from the field, including 0-of-5 from 3. 

Arkansas also had lopsided advantages in points-off-turnovers (21-11), second-chance-points (21-6), bench points (30-19), fast-break points (16-8), assists (16-5), and blocks (8-0). The Hogs, however, struggled at the free throw line (8-of-17 for 47.1%) while committing 12 turnovers of their own. Arkansas was 30-fo67 shooting from the field (44.8%), including 11-of-33 from 3 (33.3%).

Arkansas’ next game will be on Saturday against Central Arkansas (0-3) — an NCAA Division 1 school in Conway competing in the Southland Conference — which will mark the Hogs’ first regular-season game against an in-state opponent in 70 years.

“I thought we defended the ball well,” Musselman said. “Obviously, holding them to 44 points and 28% from the field, and most importantly we got back to defending the three the way we’re capable of, holding them to 1-of-13 from three.”

Musselman started the same lineup for the 4th straight contest — Sills, Vanover, Moody, Smith, and Tate.

The Hogs jumped out to a 20-6 lead as Moody and Notate each had 5 points and Tate and Smith had back-to-back dunks, the latter of which was poster-worthy as Smith climbed well above the rim, drew a foul, and converted the dunk and the subsequent free throw. Arkansas was up 23-13 when the Hogs rattled off a 17-0 run to take command once and for all, 40-13, late in the first half. Davis came off the bench and was the catalyst for the run as he had 2 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist while getting deflections and forcing turnovers. Moody had a couple of putbacks in the spurt, including a dunk.

Moody, Tate, and Notae each had 9 first-half points to pace the Hogs with Smith chipping in 7 as the Hogs led 42-20. Vanover did not score in the opening half but did contribute 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals.

Arkansas made 17-of-36 field goals (47.2%), including 4-of-16 from 3 (25%), and 4-of-7 free throws (57.1%) in the opening half while holding Southern to 9-of-33 shooting from the field (27.3%, including 1-of-8 from 3 (12.5%). The Jaguars were 1-of-2 from the free throw line. The Razorbacks won the first-half rebounding battle (25-19), second-chance-points (10-2), points in the paint (22-14), fast-break points (9-4), and bench points (12-5).

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