A put-back dunk by Adrio Bailey, resulting in a technical foul, sent the Bud Walton Arena crowd into a frenzy and proved to be the momentum play Arkansas needed to defeat North Texas, 66-43, Tuesday night.
Arkansas (2-0) was coming off of an impressive 91-43 opening-night victory over Rice heading into Tuesday’s matchup against North Texas (1-2). The Mean Green were recovering from a heartbreaking 56-59 loss to No. 25 VCU and were looking for vengeance.
Just as in the matchup against Rice, the Razorbacks went with a short starting lineup. Adrio Bailey, who stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall, was the tallest player to step on the floor for the Razorbacks.
Senior guard Jimmy Whitt Jr. thinks the size difference gives the Hogs an incentive to play tougher defense, he said.
“When you’re undersized like we are, you have to be good on defense,” Whitt Jr. said. “You have to build an identity on defense, and I think we’ve done that.”
The first half started off slow, as neither team could find consistency on offense. Mason Jones took a step-back jumper to score the first points of the game, giving Arkansas a 2-0 lead.
The Razorbacks played lockdown defense early in the first half, not allowing a score by the Mean Green until just under 11:30 remaining. North Texas struggled moving the ball throughout the half, as they failed to get a shot off on multiple occurrences, resulting in a shot clock violation.
Arkansas took a 28-16 lead over the Mean Green going into halftime. The Razorback defense forced seven turnovers, along with three steals and three blocks in the first half.
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman was proud of his team for not panicking on offense in the first half, he said.
“I was proud of the team not to panic and rush things because it was so slow,” Musselman said.
North Texas managed to out-rebound the Razorbacks 17-to-12 in the first half, but the Mean Green shot a measly 7-26 from the field. Arkansas shot 11-for-23 in the first half, and Jimmy Whitt Jr. led the way for the Hogs with nine points.
The second half started off tough for the Razorbacks. The Mean Green brought the score to within five points, but Isaiah Joe’s 3-pointer with 16 minutes remaining in the half gave the Hogs the momentum back.
Arkansas struggled moving the ball throughout the early parts of the second half. Turnovers by North Texas provided the Razorbacks with scoring chances. The Mean Green gave up 22 points off of turnovers to the Hogs throughout the game.
Musselman thinks the defense did a good job of creating opportunities on offense, he said.
“I thought our defense created a lot of offense for us,” Musselman said.
The second half was fairly back-and-forth until Bailey made a put-back dunk off of a missed layup attempt by Whitt Jr. He drew a technical foul on the play, which he later apologized for.
“It was kind of the heat of the moment,” Bailey said. “I apologized to my team for that, because to us, we don’t want those little cheap fouls.”
After that play, the Razorbacks went on a 19-9 run to finish out the game. The defense picked up from the early part of the second half to force 11 turnovers in the half.
Jones and Joe led Arkansas with 16 points each. Jones tied with sophomore guard Desi Sills for five rebounds each to lead the team.
The Razorbacks finished the game shooting 44.4% from the field and 27.3% from the 3-point line. North Texas out-rebounded the Hogs 37-to-24, but 18 total turnovers by the Mean Green proved to be its biggest flaw.
Arkansas will look to continue its impressive start to the season against the Montana Grizzlies in Bud Walton Arena at 4 p.m. Saturday. The game will be aired on SEC Network+.