Arkansas struggles with North Texas in 68-60 win to wrap up exhibition play

Pig Trail Nation

Photo Courtesy: University of Arkansas Athletics

The Arkansas Razorbacks turned Bud Walton Arena into a haunted house for themselves again before edging out visiting North Texas on Saturday, 68-60, to close out the exhibition portion of the season with yet another too-close-for-comfort finish.

After struggling throughout against Division II East Central University before escaping with a come-from-behind three-point win just six days ago, the Hoop Hogs — ranked 15th and 16th, respectively, in the preseason USA Today Coaches’ and Associated Press Top 25 polls — seemed more connected spanning most of the first 20 minutes while building a 17-point lead before the Mean Green methodically came back to close within a 3-point deficit at the 4:06 mark of the second half, 56-53.

But Arkansas slammed the door with a 12-7 run to close out the final 3:39 of the game.

The Razorbacks were better in three-point shooting (7-of-18 for 38.9%) and free throw shooting (19-of-26 for 73.1%) against UNT than they were against ECU when they clunked their way to 12.5% from 3 and 58.6% from the charity stripe. On the other hand, UNT dominated Arkansas on the glass, 42-28.

Senior guard JD Notae led the Hogs with 21 points (16 in the first half) while senior guard Chris Lykes had 14 points and senior combo forward Stanley Umude contributed 12 points and 5 rebounds. Limited by foul trouble, sophomore guard Devo Davis had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers in 20 minutes.

Starting senior wing Au’Diese Toney scored 8 points. Sophomore guard KK Robinson had a team-high 4 assists to go with 4 rebounds, 1 point, 1 steal, and 1 turnover in 18 minutes off the bench. Senior forward Trey Wade had 5 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.

Third-year head coach Eric Musselman improved to 4-0 in exhibition games at Arkansas. Sporting a 45-19 overall record as Head Hog, Musselman will lead his team into the 2021-22 regular season in 10 days with the campaign opener against Mercer at home at BWA on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

While acknowledging the aforementioned three-point and free throw shooting improvement against UNT, the Hogs were a pedestrian 21-of-50 overall shooting from the field (42.0%). Defensively, Arkansas impressively held the Mean Green to 20-of-58 shooting from the field (34.5%), including only 4-of-26 from 3 (15.4%). UNT knocked down 16-of-20 from the free throw line (80.0%).

Despite getting clobbered on the backboards, the Hogs were even in second-chance points (13-13) while winning the turnover battle (19-14) and points-off-turnovers (18-17).

Musselman had joked during his Thursday pre-game press conference that he was going to be “basically passing out starting spots like we would Halloween candy.” And sure enough, Musselman changed up his starting five a bit as sophomore 6-6 wing Jaxson Robinson started in place of sophomore 6-10 forward / center Jaylin Williams while joining Davis, Notae, Toney, and Umude on the floor first for the Hogs.

Williams — he had 10 points on 4-of-6 field goal shooting and 2-of-4 from the free throw line, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, and 2 steals against ECU on Sunday — did not play against UNT on Saturday.

However, Wade did suit up and play off the bench after missing both the Red-White game and ECU contest while recovering from a knee tendon injury. Senior forward Kamani Johnson did not play as he missed both exhibition games after playing in the Red-White game.

Arkansas trailed 7-3 when Lykes came off the bench to score 7 consecutive points in a 9-0 run that put the Hogs ahead, 12-7, then after a 5-0 UNT flurry it was KK Robinson’s all-around play and Notae’s scoring that fueled an impressive 18-0 run that pushed Arkansas to a 30-13 lead at the 5:24 mark of the first half.

The Razorbacks led 42-28 at halftime as Notae tallied 16 points in the first 20 minutes (on 5-of-9 field goals, including 4-of-6 from 3) while KK Robinson had a team-best 4 assists to go with 3 rebounds, 1 point, 1 steal, 1 drawn offensive foul, and a team-best boxscore plus-minus of plus-17 in 13 minutes off the bench. Lykes and Umude each scored 8 first-half points.

Arkansas was 12-of-25 shooting from the field (48.0%), including 7-of-12 from 3 (58.3%), and 11-of-15 from the free throw line (73.3%) in the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, UNT was 8-of-32 shooting (25.0%), including 3-of-17 from 3 (17.6%), and 9-of-12 from the free throw line (75.0%).

The Mean Green won the first-half rebounding battle, 24-16.

Arkansas came in with recent knowledge and experience against North Texas, one of the top programs in the respected Conference USA. On its way to a 17-9 overall record (9-5 for 5th in C-USA) last season that was followed by winning the C-USA postseason tournament before upsetting 4-seed Purdue in the first round of the NCAA tournament, UNT came to BWA in late November 2020 for a non-conference, regular-season game that Arkansas won, 69-54. McCasland’s teams are known for their hard-nosed play, and last season the Mean Green ranked 15th nationally among D1 schools in scoring defense, yielding only 62.3 points per game.

Senior guard Mardrez McBride led UNT with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Arkansas native Tylor Perry came off the bench to score 15 points. Senior forward Josh Bell averaged more than 10 points a game a season ago, but he did not score until the second half on Saturday as he finished with 6 points.

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