The No. 16 Arkansas men’s basketball team moved to 2-0 on the season after taking down the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs 86-69 Saturday afternoon.
The Hogs started off slow in the first half, only scoring 15 points in the first 15 minutes of the game. The Razorbacks began to heat up in the final five minutes of the first period, as the Hogs went on a three-minute, 10-0 run that was punctuated by sophomore guard Davonte Davis getting a steal and a fast break lay-in.
The Razorbacks were down 21-15 with 6:46 left in the first half, but they went into the locker up 42-26.
Junior center Connor Vanover got the start Saturday, and the 7-foot-3 man was paired with 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Jaylin Williams in the front court. That was a different strategy for Arkansas, which started a small lineup of five guards in the first game against Mercer.
The lineup change paid off for the Hogs, and Vanover had a tremendous first half. He led the Razorbacks in scoring with 12 points on 5-8 shooting. Vanover was a defensive force as well, making two blocks and forcing tough looks on nearly every shot the Bulldogs took around the rim.
Vanover carried the momentum from the first half into the beginning of the second. He recorded seven of the Hogs’ first nine points of the half and added another block. Vanover was subbed out to a standing ovation with 14 minutes remaining in the game.
“I just felt really great today,” Vanover said in the postgame press conference. “I woke up this morning, had a little Pop-Tart, I just felt great. Everyone could tell in warmups I had a little pep in my step.”
The Bulldogs went into a zone defense to try and slow down the Razorback offense, but it had the opposite effect. The zone opened up the outside shot for the Hogs, and they took full advantage of the space. The Razorbacks managed to convert on seven 3-pointers and take a 78-47 lead before the Bulldogs went back to man-to-man defense.
Gardner-Webb hit some shots late to close the lead, but the Razorbacks’ impending victory was never in doubt in the second half. The Hogs coasted for the rest of the game to a 17-point victory.
Williams gave an impressive performance that did not light up the stat sheet. He had just three points, but led the Hogs to a plus-minus of 31, led the team with eight rebounds and was second on the squad with five assists. With a wide variety of skills, combined with his 6-foot-10-inch frame, Williams continues to prove the necessity of giving him quality minutes.
“Jaylin Williams, there’s probably not a (big man) in all of college basketball that has 10 assists through two games,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “He’s been absolutely incredible, playing through him. He had eight rebounds as well.”
The Razorbacks will get the opportunity to improve to 3-0 on the season when they take on Northern Iowa at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Bud Walton Arena. The game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.