A late-game 7-0 spurt helped the cold-shooting No. 13 Arkansas Razorbacks grit out a 73-67 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats to win the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City’s T-Mobile Center Tuesday night.
Au’Diese Toney led the Hogs with 19 points and 9 rebounds, including 6 off the offensive glass to be named the MVP of the Classic.
“The right player got the MVP for the two games,” said Arkansas coach Eric Musselman. “I did not — we did not — call one single play for Au”Diese. He had 19 points, 9 rebounds and he literally took their best player utterly out of the game. He stuck to him and never left him. He defended his 3-ball, which we thought was really important. After watching their games, we felt like he was a big key.”
Next up for the Razorbacks
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 28
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network
Next 5 games
Dec. 1 – Central Arkansas, 7 p.m. (SEC+)
Dec. 4 – UALR, 3 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 7 – Charlotte, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 11 – Oklahoma (in Tulsa), 12:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Dec. 18 – Hofstra (in Little Rock), 7 p.m.
The Bearcat Musselman mentioned was Jeremiah Davenport, who came into the game averaging 13.8 ppg.
“I know Cincinnati prides themselves on toughness and grit,” Musselman said. “At least through this portion of the season, we’re as tough and gritty as any team in the country. We didn’t shoot the ball very well at all in this tournament. We came away with two wins because of our defense, our toughness, and our rebounding.”
David DeJulius led Cincinnati (5-1) with 24 points and was the only Bearcat in double figures. Ody Oguama grabbed 10 boards for the Bearcats, and Mike Saunders scored 9 and had 5 assists.
“I thought DeJulius played well for them and carried the offensive load for them this evening,” Musselman said. “That’s a good basketball team, and it’s a really good win for us.”
Chris Lykes came off the bench to score 15 for Arkansas, and JD Notae had 13. Jaylin Williams packed his stat line with 11 rebounds 4 assists and 2 steals to go with 5 points. Davonte Davis scored 8, had 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
The Razorbacks (5-0) won their opening game in the event Monday by beating Kansas State, 72-64. However, Tuesday’s effort did not go smoothly as the Hogs shot a woeful 29.4 percent from the field in the first half and just 34.7 percent from the field for the game. Arkansas’ second-half shooting was only marginally better at 40.6 percent.
Part of the issue was being stone cold from the 3-point line in the first half. The Hogs were 0 of 10 behind the arc in the first half and 3 of 7 in the second.
Arkansas senior Notae was 1 of 9 from the field in first half and 0 of 4 from the 3-point line. His sophomore backcourt mate Davis was just 2 of 9 from the field and 0 of 2 from behind the arc. However, the Hogs trailed by just 30-26 at the half.
Musselman, however, felt the Hogs’ overall performance against a very good Cincinnati squad more than trumped the off shooting night.
“I don’t care how bad we shoot, as long as we win,” Musselman said in half jest when a Zoom questioner commented that the performance was about as bad as he had ever seen a Razorback team shoot. “They had to shoot this bad at some point because whatever our record is, we are pretty good, and we’re ranked. So someone shot the ball worse than we have at some point at Arkansas.
“JD, in all seriousness, is sick. He’s been sick for three days. We have the cold going. I’ve been sick. It’s going around our team, the common cold. We had some guys dragging, including the coaches.”
Despite the poor shooting, the Razorbacks never allowed the Bearcats to take over the game, staying within reach until the Hogs struck and put the game away in the final two minutes of the game.
“When we had to get stops, we got stops,” Musselman said. “I thought our guys did a great job defensively from a preparation standpoint in a really, really short turnaround. I thought we were locked in. Cincinnati is a good basketball team. It’s a huge win for us, for sure.”
Williams was a man inside playing forward and center.
“He’s a winner,” Musselman said of his sophomore from Fort Smith… “We talk a lot about his passing. He can see the floor and space the floor. I think his best basketball is still way, way ahead of him. I think he’s going to get better and better. Our players are really, really comfortable with him with the ball in his hands because he is such a willing passer.”
Musselman was particularly proud of the way the Hogs rebounded. Along with Williams’ 11 boardsand Toney’s 9 rebounds, Connor Vanover grabbed 6 rebounds and added 8 points. Davis gathered 5, and Notae 4.
“I thought [Williams] rebounding… he led the game in rebounding against a really good rebounding team,” Musselman said. “We knew rebounding was going to be important against Cincinnati and that toughness was going to be important. It wasn’t close rebounding. We out rebounded them by 14. We dominated on the backboards and the toughness on the glass tonight.
“I thought Jaylin’s minutes were incredibly important to us with 4 assists, 2 steals, 4 or 5 charges taken, 11 rebounds.
He rebounded the ball in traffic. Really proud of how he played.”
While shooting wasn’t a strong point for Arkansas’ guards, Musselman liked the way Davis, Lykes, and Notae competed.
“I thought Chris played really good,” Musselman said of his sixth man. “He gave us such a good offensive spark… I thought he distributed the ball well.
“Devo hit two huge free throws. Devo’s plus/minus rating was as good as anyone’s on our team. He struggled a little (shooting) tonight as did JD, but JD had a huge steal. He just has this knack for getting clutch steals. Then in the second half he did hit a couple of clutch shots. In both games (his shooting) was a little bit uncharacteristic.”
Musselman was thrilled with the victory over a program like Cincinnati that’s known for its toughness even with first-year coach Wes Miller at the helm.
“I think Cincinnati is really, really, really good,” Musselman said. “They are well coached. They understand their rolls. They go deep into their bench. They compete.”
Musselman said friends “blew up” his phone with text message following the game.
“That was a great of a basketball game from a spectator standpoint unless you are worried about cosmetic offensive play,” Musselman said. “…I got about 100 more text messages tonight than after our K-State game. I think a lot of people across the country watched the game, and they respect our team for how hard we play.
“Now, it’s not easy to go out back to back and rebound against a team that’s tough like Cincinnati. They are a gritty, tough team. They play hard one through five, and they defended us. Kansas State is a well-coached defensive team, and I think Cincinnati is a well-coached defensive team.”
Coming out of the two games, Musselman said the Razorbacks need to improve their play at point guard. Notae and Davis are both combo guards, and sometimes their natural instincts as scorers supersede their responsibilities to set the table for the entire team.
Toney’s heart, strength, and desire continues to impress his coach and onlookers.
“He keeps getting better,” Musselman said of Toney, a 6-6, 205-pound transfer from Pittsburgh. “Our style of play is much, much different than what he used to playing. I think he was a little bit uncomfortable with how we play, and how free we play. I think the offensive freedom is a little unique to what he’s used to, and I think he’s finding a really good grove now in what we want him to do and the freedom he can play with.
“His cutting is extremely valuable to us. His finding open holes in the teeth of the defense is extremely important. His ability to offensive rebound and get us extra possessions and get put-backs. He’s at that size where it’s really, really important how we want to play.”
Musselman also liked the production elsewhere. He’s seen growth in Vanover’s play in the two-game classic.
“I though Connor played well too,” Musselman said. “I thought his minutes were good. contributions tonight.”
The Razorbacks returned to Fayetteville late after the game.
“It was a great two days here in Kansas City,” Musselman said. “Our guys got a lot of good experiences off the floor as well as the two games. We played two really good teams and challenged ourselves.
“Obviously we need a little bit of rest. There is no doubt about that. It’s hard to play back-to-back games. We’ll be able to regroup after getting back late, late, late tonight. We will get back at it on, I guess, Thanksgiving.”
The Razorbacks’ next game is at 3 p.m. Sunday against Penn at Bud Walton Arena. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.