If Wednesday’s performance against Mississippi Valley State is a reliable indicator of what’s to come, the Muss Bus will be powered by rocket fuel in 2020-21 as evidenced by Arkansas’ eight players scoring in double figures to launch a 142-62 punishing victory over MVSU in the season-opener in front of 4,400 fans at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
It marked the second-most points ever scored in a game by Arkansas (the 81 second-half points were the second most for a half in school history), it was the most points ever scored in a Hogs’ season-opener, and the 80-point winning margin was the second-largest in school history. Arkansas scored 130 points against Alcorn State on Nov. 13, 2009, for the previous high-water mark in a season-opener. The most points scored by Arkansas in a single game came in a 166-101 win over U.S. International in Barnhill Arena in December 1989, while an 82-point win over Bethune-Cookman in 1991 stands as the Hogs’ largest winning margin in school history.
The Hogs made an impressive 20-of-40 from 3 as a team against MVSU, one make short of tying the school record for made triples in a single game.
“There’s no question I had in the (NBA) G-League,” second-year Arkansas head coach Eric Mussleman answered when asked if he’d ever coached a team that scored as many points in a game. Musselman improved to 2-0 in season-openers at Arkansas, and 5-1 when combined with his four season-openers coaching at Nevada prior to taking the Arkansas job in April 2019.
Little Rock native and 7-foot-3 sophomore Connor Vanover, who sat out last season after transferring from Cal, had a game-high 23 points (8-of-11 field goals, including 4-of-5 from 3, and 3-of-3 free throws) off the bench to go with 8 rebounds (matching his career high) and 3 blocks. Junior guards Desi Sills (15 points) and JD Notae (13 points, game-high 7 assists, and 5 rebounds) each scored in double-figures, as did the Hogs’ three grad-transfers — Justin Smith (13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals), Jalen Tate (14 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists), and Vance Jackson, Jr. (15 points, including 4-of-6 from 3, plus 7 rebounds). Jackson topped 1,000 career points in the game when combining his scoring totals at UConn and New Mexico.
Freshmen guards Moses Moody (18 points, including 9-of-10 free throw shooting, plus 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists) and Khalen “KK” Robinson (15 points on 5-of-8 field goals, including 3-of-5 from 3, plus 3 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal) rounded out the double-figure scoring for the Hogs. Freshman big man Jaylin Williams had 9 points (including two made three-pointers) to go with a game-high 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists.
“I didn’t really surprise myself,” Vanover said of his stellar production in only 18 minutes of game action. “I’ve been really waiting for this for a year-and-a-half, just to be able to get back to playing games. It’s been a grind since I’ve been sick this whole offseason, just getting back to where I was and just keep pushing every day. My goal was to be as good as I can be for this first game, and continue to keep getting better going forward. I feel like right now I’m in a good spot, and I can definitely get better from here.”
Arkansas (1-0) has now won two consecutive games when including last season’s 86-73 victory over Vanderbilt on March 11, 2019, in the first round of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tenn. The win over MVSU (0-1) on Wednesday came on opening day in college basketball and was the first of two Hog games at BWA spanning the next three days as part of a multi-team exemption (MTE) event that will also bring North Texas to Fayetteville for a 5 p.m. CT matchup on Saturday (SEC Network Plus / ESPN3).
With much speculation surrounding who Mussleman would start as he chose from a roster with 9 newcomers among the 11 on scholarship who were ready to play, he chose a veteran-heavy group that inlcuded Smith, Tate, Jackson, Sills, and Moody. Ten Hogs played at least 12 minutes in the game, and including three walk-ons Arkansas had a total of 14 players log minutes.
The Hogs led 13-8 at the 14:47 mark when they blasted off with a 28-0 run that included 8 made three-pointers (four from Jackson), resulting in a 41-8 Arkansas lead with 7:48 to go before halftime as the Hogs put the game away early. Arkansas led 61-30 at the break and 106-48 midway through the second half.
“It felt good to play basketball again,” Jackson said. “It (the Hogs’ three-point shooting) was going in today.”
For the game, Arkansas made 48-of-86 field goals (55.8%), including the aforementioned 20-of-40 from 3, and 26-of-33 free throws (78.8%). The Hogs, the worst rebounding team in the SEC a season ago, dominated the glass (58-33) while winning assists (26-12), steals (11-3, and tunovers (21-7 for plus-14). Defensively, Arkansas limited MVSU to 23-of-72 field goal shooting (31.9%), including 13-of-39 from 3 (33.3%). The Delta Devils made 3-of-6 from the free throw line.
Sophomore guard Caleb Hunter, MVSU’s leading returning scorer (15.7 points per game) from last season and the son of MVSU head coach and former NBA guard Lindsey Hunter, was held to 10 points in the game.
In the first half, Jackson, Vanover, and Robinson combined to make 10-of-12 three-point shots and scored a combined 34 points, with Vanover chipping in team-highs 5 rebounds and 3 blocks. Smith had 11 points (including 5-of-7 field goal shooting) to go with 3 rebounds and 3 steals at the break. Arkansas’ preseason leading scorer in two intrasquad scrimmages, Notae (he sat out last season after transferring from Jacksonville), did not score his first bucket as a Hog until :07 before halftime. Still, he led the team in assists with 3 at the break.
Arkansas shot a blistering 12-of-19 from 3 (63.2%) in the first half as part of an overall field-goal shooting effort of 22-of-39 for 56.4%. The Hogs struggled from the free throw line, though, making only 5-of-10. The Hogs won the first-half rebounding battle (25-21) and they also held the edge in assists (13-8), steals (5-1), and turnovers (10-5 for a plus-5 advantage).