Senior guard JD Notae brought the lead back to double digits and closed the door on the Little Rock Trojans with a 3-pointer, putting No. 10 Arkansas up 85-73 with 3:47 remaining Saturday. The Razorbacks went on to win 93-78 in Bud Walton Arena and moved to 8-0 on the season.
The Razorbacks led for nearly the entire first half, only trailing 3-2 in the first minute of play. They held a single-digit lead for much of the half, until a 7-2 run in the last two minutes of the half allowed the Hogs to take a 49-34 lead into halftime.
The Arkansas defense was elite in the first half. The Hogs held the Trojans to 40% from the field and an abysmal 9% from 3-point range.
Forward Isaiah Palermo got hot in the first half after hitting a few post fades in a row. The next time down the court, Razorback sophomore guard Davonte Davis put himself on Palermo and locked him down, even after getting screened three times.
Senior guard Au’Diese Toney led the Hogs in scoring with 16 points in the first half, shooting 5-6 from the field. Toney is a powerful finisher at the rim, and he used his skills to roam the dunker spot under the basket, cleaning up offensive rebounds and finishing little drop-off passes from driving guards.
“He’s a junkyard dog,” Little Rock coach and former Arkansas basketball player Darrell Walker said in a postgame press conference. “A guy like that you don’t have to run any plays for, he just gets his points from the system. That’s a great pickup for (Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman). He’s kind of a glue guy on this team.”
The Trojans started to heat up from the 3-point line to open up the second half . Four 3-pointers for Little Rock in the second half stretched the Razorback lead to five with 15 minutes to go in the game.
An 11-6 run for the Hogs brought the lead back to 10 with 10:30 on the clock. Notae turned it on during that stretch by attacking hard Trojan closeouts on the perimeter after he struggled to do anything in the first half.
Notae came through for Arkansas once again with 6:42 remaining, recording two steals from the Trojans for easy layups raising the score to 82-68. Two baskets from Little Rock cut the Arkansas lead to nine. Notae drained his second 3-pointer of the game to bring the lead back to 12, and a solid defensive possession allowed senior guard Chris Lykes to run the clock out and force the Trojans to intentionally foul with 2:33 remaining.
Toney finished the game with 18 points and eight rebounds, both of which were team highs. Davis showed out on both ends of the floor. He was the lockdown defender he usually is, and he also provided some much-needed playmaking, leading the Hogs with seven assists.
“I thought Devo was as dialed in as I’ve been around him,” Musselman said. “I thought he played on a different level. For him to go out and have seven assists and no turnovers, quite frankly he played flawlessly at the one.”
Notae did not play very well for most of the game, only scoring two points in the first half, but he was the catalyst for the run that closed the game. Arkansas will need a much more engaged and efficient Notae when it moves on to conference play.
“He’s kind of that guy that makes daggers,” Musselman said. “He’s got to play much better than he did tonight. He had that one good stretch, but he is capable of much more than that.”
Up next, Arkansas will take on the Charlotte 49ers at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Bud Walton Arena. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.