Freshman phenoms showing worth for Razorbacks

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE - Normally, Chuck Barrett signs off the postgame radio interview with Eric Musselman.

However, following Arkansas’ 75-64 SEC victory over Florida Tuesday night at Walton Arena, Arkansas’ coach blurted a rejoinder to Barrett’s closer. 

Thirty-eight minutes we had the lead!” Musselman exulted.  We’ll take it!”

Other than one 10-10 tie and one down 62-61 lapse with 4:40 left, Musselman’s Razorbacks, 17-5 overall/ 9-4 for second in the SEC, won their seventh consecutive SEC game leading start to finish.

Musselman waxed as proud of the Hogs immediately retaking and expanding the lead they briefly lost as he was over the overall scoreboard domination.

I was really proud of how we played,” Musselman said. “Not to fold once they went up one and they made a pretty good run, we did a great job of making sure we handled the game and finished the game the right way.”

Those words echoed his previous Saturday’s musings on dominating the second half against Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, yet getting tied with nine seconds left for an overtime inducing 73-73 and then regrouping in OT to win 86-81.

Oftentimes you see a team that’s right there on the verge of winning when they’re on the road and the game goes into overtime you see an emotional letdown,” Musselman said last Saturday. “You see a team kind of hang their head because it was right there in regulation for us to win. But we just kept talking about, ‘Hey, we’ll be able to score. Let’s just try to get defensive stops, try to keep off the foul line as much as we possibly could.”

Through this seven game SEC winning streak these Hogs have been sharpened under fire, escaping 81-80 at Kentucky last week before winning in OT at Mizzou.

Certainly Arkansas’ freshmen have come of age.

Of the four frosh, remember the Hogs lost freshman point guard Khalen “KK” Robinson of Bryant for the season with a broken foot, 6-3 combo guard Davonte “Devo” Davis began the season as the long-range project, athletically gifted but raw and trying to learn point guard, off guard and small forward.’

HOG LOGO

Unlike freshman star guard Moses Moody (Montverde) in Florida and Robinson (Oak Hill his senior season in Virginia) Academy, Jacksonville’s Davis didn’t have the extra benefit of basketball academy polish.

Nor did he have freshman big man Jaylin Williams’ instantly needed 6-10, 245 pounds coming out of Fort Smith Northside augmenting 7-3 third-year sophomore center Connor Vanover.

Now he’s almost as instrumental as Moody. In fact Devo’s 18 points, including the go-ahead basket after fellow Jacksonville High grad Tyree Appleby gave Florida its lone lead, led all scorers in Tuesday night’s game.

Phenomenal,” Musselman exclaimed. “I mean he keeps getting better and better every game. His shot selection is good. He’s not turning the ball over. The guys love playing with him. Defensively, he’s a menace. He’s all over the place. He gets loose balls. He rebounds his position. He had five rebounds (Tuesday). He and Jaylin, for freshmen, they just keep getting better.”

Williams grabbed a game-leading 10 rebounds off the bench alternating with Vanover and scored four points including a power slam when the Hogs needed a spark. And he played key defense down the stretch against Florida 6-11 standout Colin Castleton and his 13 points.

“Phenomenal,” Musselman said. “We talked about his post defense. But for him to go in there and lead us in rebounds. I mean, he had four more rebounds than anybody else on the roster for us. You look at Florida’s leading rebounders and he had two more rebounds than anybody on Florida’s team. He did all of that in 23 minutes. He’s an incredible aggressive defensive rebounder, which is the key to any defensive team.”

Williams does the dirty work in a big way.

“The big thing is he’s just physical,” Musselman said. “He enjoys getting in there and banging around. Some guys don’t like contact. He seeks contact.”

Moody, whose steal and two free throws with 12 seconds left in overtime secured the win at Mizzou, by his standards might be deemed to have played an off game against Florida hitting but 3 of 14 shots.

Anything but, Musselman rebuts. Hitting 6 of 7 free throws, Moody still scored 14 points and frustrated Florida 3-point marksman Noah Locke to a 2-for-9 shooting night with just 1 for 5 on treys.

“Moody was on Noah Locke a lot,” Musselman said. “He held him to 2 of 9.”

Texas A&M, only 8-7 overall/ 2-6 in the SEC because of so many COVID-19 related postponements in its program including its Feb. 6 Arkansas game at Walton, comes next for Arkansas at 7:30 Saturday night in College Station, Texas.

The Aggies tonight in College Station were to make up a postponed game against Alabama, but the SEC postponed all of Thursday’s make up games because of the snow and ice and power outages that has induced throughout the south.