The Governors hung around for most of the game against Arkansas, but when sophomore guard Desi Sills nailed two straight three-pointers, fans knew the Hogs had the game in the bag.
Austin Peay (3-4) entered the game with a deceiving record. They were a battle-tested team, suffering losses to Vanderbilt, Tulsa and Western Kentucky, all three of which are on the schedule for Arkansas.
The Hogs (8-0) were hitting the hardwood for their first matchup since a 66-60 victory over Northern Kentucky on Nov. 30, a game where the Razorbacks were without guard Mason Jones. Arkansas missed his team-leading 18.5 points per game as they narrowly defeated the Norse.
It took a little over two minutes for senior guard Jimmy Whitt Jr. to sink a mid-range jump shot to put Arkansas on the board. Defensively, forward Adrio Bailey had a busy night early as the Governors continually forced the ball into the paint.
Whitt Jr. was one of the lone bright spots for the Razorbacks as he had six of the 12 Arkansas points 10 minutes into the half. Guards Isaiah Joe and Jalen Harris both knocked down three-pointers to round out the Hogs scoring.
A layup by APU junior Terry Taylor gave the Governors a 13-12 lead with 9:43 remaining in the half. Peay was out-rebounding Arkansas 9-4 at this point, making it hard for the Hogs to have scoring opportunities.
With 7:26 remaining in the first half, the Hogs were 6-12 from the field and 3-6 from three. The Governors were 6-14 from the field and 1-5 from three, but it was eight fouls and six turnovers by the Razorbacks that provided Peay with plenty of scoring opportunities.
Jones knocked down two free throws for his first points of the game and tied the score at 18-18. A blocked shot by Ethan Henderson on the ensuing Peay possession resulted in a roar from the fans in Bud Walton Arena.
After that, Arkansas went on a 7-0 run to take a 25-18 lead, including an electrifying put-back slam by Henderson. Henderson saw his first quality first-half minutes of the season as he recorded four rebounds and three blocked shots.
Musselman said he thought Henderson brought phenomenal play.
“I cannot give Ethan enough credit,” Musselman said. “He blocked shots and almost led us in rebounds in just seven minutes of play.”
The shoulder injury that held Mason Jones out of the previous contest seemed to be fine as he recorded 10 first-half points to lead the team. The Hogs took a 34-30 lead into the locker room at halftime after an all-around sloppy performance in the first half as they recorded nine turnovers and 12 team fouls.
The second half started as a near mirror image of the first: slow and filled with Razorback turnovers. Bailey took advantage of Jones leaving the game, after his fifth turnover, and scored his first four points in the first four minutes of the half.
With a little under 12 minutes to play in the game Joe drained a three to make him the third Hog with double-digit points in the game (Jones, 12, Whitt, 11). Joe’s shot extended the Razorback lead to eight as they tried to pull away from the Governors.
After going into the double-bonus with 5:37 left in the game and a 57-49 lead, the Hogs looked to put the game out of reach. They would do just that nearly a minute later, as a slam-dunk from Whitt extended the Razorback lead to double-digits for the first time in the game.
Coming into the game, Sills was 2-30 from three-point range. In a span of one minute, late in the second half, he doubled his season total of three-pointer made with back-to-back three-point shots that extended the Razorback lead to 12 points.
Jones was excited to see that Sills had better success from long range.
“It’s good to see Desi knocking those shots down with confidence,” Jones said. “You could tell when he hit the first one, the second one was going in for sure.”
Austin Peay attempted a last-minute run, but Arkansas went on to defeat the Governors, 69-61. Whitt led the Hogs with 17 points and recorded two rebounds. Taylor, who has averaged 23.3 points per game for the Governors this season, recorded 20 points and six rebounds to lead all scorers.
The Razorbacks will return to action against Western Kentucky on Saturday, Dec 7, at 6:30 p.m. in E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The game will be aired on the CBS Sports Network.