ARK MBB 11/17/21

Razorback graduate transfer Chris Lykes drives to the basket off a screen from sophomore forward Jaylin Williams. Lykes scored a team-high 26 points in Arkansas’ 93-80 win over Northern Iowa on Wednesday.

The No. 16 Arkansas men’s basketball team took down the Northern Iowa Panthers 93-80 Wednesday evening in a game that was much closer down the stretch than the final score indicated.

Neither team gave the other much wiggle room in the first half. Every time it appeared one side was beginning to pull away, the other went on a run to keep it close. UNI was lethal from deep, hitting nine 3-pointers in the first half at a 53% clip.

“We weren’t passing early (in the year), we weren’t having assists,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in the postgame press conference. “We’re only three games in and they have solved these things really quickly. The one thing we’re not doing is defending that 3-point line. It’s mind-boggling to me because we led the nation in it two years ago.”

Graduate transfer guard Chris Lykes was an offensive shot in the arm for the Hogs on Wednesday, as he has been all season. Lykes came off the bench and scored nine quick points, including one circus layup in which he released the ball nearly parallel to the floor. That shot sent the crowd at Bud Walton Arena into a frenzy and brought the Hogs to a 14-12 lead. Lykes finished the half with 14 points.

The Panthers’ 3-point shooting was the story on the Hogs’ defensive end in the first half. About 71% of UNI’s 38 points came from the 3-point line. UNI’s proclivity for the long ball also forced the Arkansas defense to adjust and step up on shooters, which allowed easy drives and backdoor cuts.

Arkansas went into halftime with a 40-38 lead. Lykes led the way in scoring with 14 points, but sophomore forward Jaylin Williams was brilliant once again. The 6-foot-10-inch Fort Smith native filled up the stat sheet with five points, five rebounds and five assists in the first half.

The second half started similar to the first. Arkansas hit a few shots, and UNI responded in quick succession with a barrage of 3-pointers to take the lead.

Sophomore guard Davonte Davis got off to a great start, with 10 points on 50% shooting before being ejected with 14:55 remaining in the half. Davis was involved in a scramble for a loose ball that was very physical but resulted in a no-call from the officials. Frustrated, Davis then body-checked a UNI player into the seats near half-court.

“I didn’t really see it to be honest with you,” Musselman said. “There were some words to the bench at one point, somebody had said something. It was a physical game. It happened. We’re going to talk to him about keeping our composure and how much we need him. You move on.”

Arkansas seemed to up its intensity after the ejection, forcing multiple turnovers and converting them into points. Senior guard JD Notae led the team with two steals on the evening.

For the last five minutes, the teams were neck-and-neck until the end. After a UNI 3-pointer made it 75-72 in the visitor’s favor, Lykes came right back down and hit a 3-pointer of his own to tie the game. Williams blocked a Panther shot, followed by a Notae layup made easy by an Au’Diese Toney seal on the defender in the paint that resulted in a 2-point lead for the Hogs.

UNI hit from deep once again to take a one-point lead, and Toney came up clutch once again, responding with a shot of his own from deep to retake the lead for the Razorbacks. Two late layups from Williams sealed the game for Arkansas as the score rose to 84-78 with 1:27 to go, and UNI had to start intentionally fouling.

Lykes led the way offensively with 26 points, shooting an efficient 50% from the field. Toney finished with 13 points, all in the second half. Williams had an all-around stellar performance with 11 points, six rebounds and seven assists.

“My teammates did a good job finding me tonight, as they always do,” Lykes said. “My mindset today was to be a little more aggressive. I think I was just thinking too much the first two games. I just took more of an aggressive approach on offense and made sure I locked in on defense.”

The Hogs seemed to take one step forward and one step backward in the win. The assist-to-turnover numbers have improved greatly over the last two games, totaling 44-14 over those matchups. The new thorn in Arkansas’ side, though, is its inability to defend the 3-point shot.

Arkansas will take on Kansas State in the Hall of Fame Classic at 8 p.m. Monday in Kansas City, Missouri, followed by a game against the winner of Illinois and Cincinnati on Tuesday. Both games will be broadcast on ESPNews.

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