The Arkansas men’s basketball team (9-0, SEC 1-0) overcame the Auburn Tigers (6-3, SEC 0-1) in Auburn Arena, 97-85, to kick off conference play Wednesday night. The Razorbacks have started 9-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons.
Arkansas junior guard Desi Sills led in scoring with a career-high of 23 points. He shot 8-of-15 from the court, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
“I just felt like we came in as the underdog,” Sills said in a Zoom postgame press conference. “I know we haven’t played the best competition or nothing like that. I just felt like tonight we had something to show why Arkansas is one of the best teams in the conference.”
Junior guard JD Notae followed up with 21 points – 19 of which came in the second half – and shot 6-of-12 from the field.
Despite Auburn's eye-popping 15-29 shooting from 3-point range, the Tigers struggled to keep possession of the ball. Arkansas took advantage of Auburn’s 12 second-half turnovers and put up 20 points. Seven of those turnovers came in the final 6:30 as the Razorbacks turned a two-point lead into a double-digit win.
Arkansas was 32-65 from the field, with sophomore forward Connor Vanover, freshman guard Moses Moody and senior guard Jalen Tate joining Sills and Notae in double figures.
Late in the first half, senior forward Justin Smith rolled his right ankle and did not return to the court.
“I was really proud of the other guys,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said of the Razorbacks playing in Smith’s absence. “For instance, Devonte Davis. The job he did defensively was phenomenal and he hit a really big shot for us. Ethan Henderson has not played much at all. He came in and got a big loose ball for us.”
With the game tied up 74-74 with 7:01 to play, Vanover grabbed an offensive rebound and slammed it home to start off a 10-0 run for the Hogs to take an 84-74 lead.
“I did some good things, I did some bad things,” Vanover said. “I really just need to pick up on my shooting. Going 1-for-5 from 3 is not really my game. So, I definitely need to hit more shots. But, I think that really helped me open up my inside-game and being more of a cutter and a slasher and making shots inside.”
The Razorbacks’ 9-0 start is their first since the 1993-94 season, when the Hogs went on to win the NCAA championship. All nine wins this year have been decided by double-digits.
The Razorback men’s basketball team will return to Fayetteville to take on the No. 12 Missouri Tigers on Saturday, Jan 2. with tipoff set for 11 a.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS.