Missed opportunities for the Northern Kentucky Norse in the waning seconds of the game allowed the Arkansas Razorback basketball team to come away with its seventh-straight win Saturday night, 66-60.
The Hogs (7-0) were coming off a victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Nov. 25. NKU (5-3) came into the game with a fast offensive attack and was looking to hit from the three-point range early.
The Razorbacks’ 7-0 start is their best since the 2014-2015 season, when they started 6-0. Along with the victory, the Razorbacks also won their region of the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow, going 4-0. Senior Jimmy Whitt Jr. was voted the MVP of the event while sophomores Isaiah Joe and Desi Sills were named to the All-Tournament team.
Whitt Jr. scored a team-high 24 points Saturday night and went 9-for-15 (60%) shooting. He also had nine rebounds, two assists and a team-high plus-minus of 17. Whitt Jr. topped his night off by scoring his 1,000th career point.
“For me, personally, I loved it,” Whitt Jr. said. “Not every game in college is going to be a blowout. The closer you get toward the end of the year, you gotta be able to grind out wins. That was good for us. We really needed that.”
Sills scored 17 points and went 7-for-16 (43.8%) shooting but continued to struggle from beyond the arc, failing to notch a three-pointer. He also had four rebounds, four assists and a plus-minus of five.
“I’m going to keep on shooting’,” Sills said. “Eventually they are all going to fall. Jimmy keeps on telling me to keep my head up high and don’t ever hold it down. Just keep on shooting and try to get a rhythm.”
NKU’s Dantez Walton, who was also voted to the All-Tournament team, scored a game-high 30 points and went 10-for-14 (71.4%) shooting. He also recorded 10 rebounds, four steals and two assists. Walton’s 30 points were the most points scored by a Razorback opponent since Colorado State’s Prentiss Nixon put up 31 on Jan. 20, 2017.
There were only two lead changes in the game and once the Razorbacks and the Norse tied. NKU had zero bench points, which proved costly near the end.
“I’m never okay with a loss, obviously,” NKU head coach Darrin Horn said. “But we’re really proud of our guys and how we competed. We’ve been really challenging, especially from last week, that we need to put a game together and compete for 40 minutes where we follow the game plan.”
The Razorbacks gave up eight three-pointers in the game, while only giving up a total of 13 all season coming into the game. The Hogs went 3-for-18 (16.6%) from three-point range.
“It was a hard fought ballgame tonight,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought that our bench was phenomenal: 11 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.”
Arkansas struggled defensively throughout the game. The Razorbacks were allowing just 50 points per game coming into the matchup and averaged 19 turnovers per game. The Hogs forced only 11 turnovers against the Norse.
“Defensively, we’ve got to get back to being who we are,” Musselman said. “We gotta defend better. We didn’t do a very good job on their star player. We didn’t defend the three-ball like we have through six games. Two huge areas of concern that we need to correct before we play on Tuesday.”
Junior Mason Jones, who hit a game-winning shot against Georgia Tech earlier last week, did not play Saturday because of a shoulder injury.
The Hogs were barely holding on with 23.4 seconds to play and were preserving a 61-60 lead over the Norse. Joe converted one of his two free throws after getting fouled, and NKU lost their chance to take the lead by missing a wide-open three-pointer.
Adrio Bailey got the rebound, was fouled and made both of his free throws to ice the game.
The Arkansas Razorback men’s basketball team will look to keep its undefeated status when it faces the Austin Peay Governors (3-3). Tipoff will be at Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.