ARK MBB 10/24/21

Senior guard JD Notae handles the ball during the Razorbacks' 2021 win over Georgia. Notae and the Hogs squeaked by the East Central Tigers in an exhibition game Sunday afternoon.

Arkansas narrowly beat the East Central Tigers 77-74 Sunday in an exhibition game that did not instill confidence in the No. 16 Razorback men’s basketball team.

The Razorbacks got their first taste of an actual opponent before the 2021-22 season, as they took on the Tigers in their first of two exhibition games scheduled before the regular season gets underway.

Sophomore guard Davonte Davis led the Hogs in scoring with 20 points, shooting 8-15. Graduate transfer guard Au’Diese Toney led the team with 15 rebounds.

“Coaches always preach to crash the glass, especially when you’re facing smaller guards like I was tonight,” Toney said in the postgame press conference.

The Razorbacks trailed 37-35 at halftime. They shot poorly across the board in the first half, hitting 3-pointers at a dismal 11% clip, free throws at 46% and total shots from the field at 42%.

The Hogs’ first unit controlled the pace in the early going as their stifling defense forced multiple turnovers, including a shot-clock violation and a couple of bad looks from the Tigers at the end of the shot clock.

Arkansas struggled to put forth any offense in the first 20 minutes of the game. The offense looked best coming off the fast break. Davis and senior guard JD Notae excelled on the break, allowing them to get to the rim and finish or get fouled.

Halfway through the first half, the second unit, led by senior guard Chris Lykes and junior forward Connor Vanover, came in. Arkansas went into its press, and it resulted in a steal from Davis and a block from Vanover that led directly to points. Lykes also got into the defensive action, swiping a steal at halfcourt, followed by an unopposed layup for Lykes.

The second unit was more defensively oriented, as Lykes’ speed and Davis’ athleticism created problems for the Tigers. However, the Hogs’ aggressiveness on the defensive end got them into trouble. Multiple Tiger drives collapsed the Arkansas defense and drew perimeter defenders into the paint, allowing for open threes for the Tigers.

In the second half, Arkansas came out with sophomore forward Jaylin Williams as the big man, but his East Central counterpart Josh Apple scored six quick points in the first two minutes.

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman responded with a small lineup of five guards, which looked to be the change of pace Arkansas needed. It allowed the Razorbacks to play to their strengths of speed and athleticism on both ends by having five players who could put pressure on the ball, and opened up the paint for drives to the rim.

At the second half’s 10-minute mark, Musselman went back to Williams and four guards.  This lineup brought the Hogs from a 13-point deficit to a 66-64 lead with five minutes remaining in the game. Williams was a major difference-maker on the 15-point run, making multiple blocks and being the defensive anchor the Razorbacks had lacked all game.

“Jaylin (Williams) was the biggest key of the comeback,” Toney said. “Blocking shots, keeping the ball off the rim. He gave us the spark we needed.”

Arkansas was offensively abysmal the whole game, hitting 44% from the field, 59% from the free throw line, and 13% from deep. The Hogs had 60% of their points come from the paint and had nine assists compared to 10 turnovers.

“I am overly shocked about how poorly we shot the ball from the foul line and from three,” Musselman said. “We have not seen that behind closed doors.”

The Razorbacks will get a chance at redemption when they take on reigning Conference USA champion North Texas in the final exhibition game at 4 p.m Saturday in Bud Walton Arena.

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