MBB vs S. Dakota

Jalen Harris, a junior, drives in the paint against South Dakota on Nov. 22 during the Razorbacks’ 77-56 win over the Coyotes. The Hogs remain undefeated this season.

The Razorbacks’ (5-0) floor general guided the Hogs to a 77-56 victory over South Dakota (5-1) with a tremendous shooting performance backed by strong perimeter defense against the leading three-point-shooting team in the NCAA.

“For all of those analytic guys that think the mid-range game has gone out of basketball — welcome to Jimmy Whitt’s world,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. 

Graduate senior guard Jimmy Whitt Jr. commanded his team to victory with a career-high 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting and a team-high seven rebounds. The South Dakota defense had no answer for Whitt Jr.’s mid-range pull-up jumper, which he used to score 16 of his 24 points. 

“It was one of those games where I had the hot hand,” Whitt Jr. said. “And my teammates every time down-court were telling me to shoot it.”

Whitt Jr. set an Arkansas record for most points by a point guard in a game without attempting a three. Whitt Jr.’s smart shot selection allowed him to convert almost 80% of the shots he took.

“Jimmy, his shot selection is so good,” Musselman said. “Every time he shoots it, it’s a good shot. It’s close to the rim, he elevates over the defense.” 

Whitt Jr. sparked two runs in the game with his go-to pull-up jumpshot. The first occurred just a little over seven minutes into the game, a 13-0 run that stretched the Arkansas lead from 17-11 to 30-11. The Coyotes never came within single digits of Arkansas after that run, but when they got close, Whitt Jr.’s basket spurred another 13-point run that extended Arkansas’ lead to 75-52, which put the metaphorical dagger in the Coyotes.

The Razorbacks’ perimeter defense tormented South Dakota, who were the NCAA’s leading three-point shooting team entering the game. They were shooting 51.1% (47-of-92) from three through their first five games. They managed to cash in only three of their 12 shots from beyond the arc.

Arkansas entered the game ranked third in the NCAA in three-point field goal defense at an 11.6% conversion rate. The Coyotes’ three trifectas are the most that Arkansas has allowed in a game this season.

Interior defense was strong for the Hogs as well, as they totalled eight blocks, with sophomore forward Reggie Chaney swatting away three shots. Arkansas allowed only 32 points in the paint, and the Coyotes shot only a little more than 57% percent in that area.

Arkansas continued to command the first half defensively, yielding only 24 points to the Coyotes. The Razorbacks have not conceded more than 24 points in the first half yet this season.

Junior guard Mason Jones had 14 points, seven rebounds and was 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Jones has been a perfect 27-of-27 from the line this year.

Arkansas’ bench scored 21 points, and no player had less than five points.

Despite the flawless record, three-point shooting remains a concern for the Razorbacks, as they have one of the worst three-point field goal percentages in the NCAA at 26.5% (30-of-113).

Sophomore guard Isaiah Joe was the most recent example of that, going 2-of-10 from the floor and 1-of-6  from three-point range. Despite his shooting struggles, Joe found other ways to get on the stat sheet, assisting five baskets and yanking down five rebounds.

“That’s just what great players do,” Whitt said. “They find a way to contribute to the game even if it’s not scoring. And he did that with those five assists, he played amazing defense.”

Arkansas will square off against Georgia Tech in its first road game of the season at 6 p.m. Nov. 25 in Atlanta. The game will be televised on the ACC Network.

Parker Tillson is in his second year as a sports reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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