FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Standout freshman Nick Smith Jr. scored 22 points in just his third game to help No. 9 Arkansas overcome a sluggish offensive showing and outlast North Carolina-Greensboro 65-58 on Tuesday night.
The Razorbacks (8-1) shot 33.3% and trailed for a majority of the game. Arkansas didn’t take the lead for good until Devo Davis made a pair of free throws with 4:04 left. Anthony Black followed with a 3-pointer a minute later and Arkansas went on a 13-3 burst to take a three-possession lead into the final minute.
Smith, a projected NBA lottery pick, missed Arkansas’ first six games with a knee injury.
“In virtually his second game, to have 22 points, especially when we only scored 65, if he doesn’t have a good scoring night, we probably don’t win tonight,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said.
Makhi Mitchell had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Arkansas, Davis had 10 points and 10 boards, and Black scored 11 points.
Donovan Atwell led UNC Greensboro (4-6) with 12 points and Dante Treacy added 11.
Arkansas’s poor shooting in the first half led to the Hogs having as many turnovers (nine) as made field goals in the opening 20 minutes. UNC Greensboro was hardly better, shooting 29% in the first half, but the Spartans made four 3-pointers to take a five-point lead into halftime.
The Razorbacks’ biggest advantage came via their aggression in getting to the rim. Arkansas outscored the Spartans in the paint 28-24 and went 26 of 33 from the free-throw line. UNC Greensboro was 7 of 11 on free throws.
Smith, who played 39 minutes, made nine of 11 free throws, including 3 of 3 in the final 90 seconds.
“Obviously we were a little bit concerned about his wind and conditioning, but I thought he was fresh enough to make some foul shots when we needed them,” Musselman said.
Hogs Need Council-ing
Ricky Council entered the game as the SEC’s leading scorer, averaging 19.1 points and reaching double figures in every game. That streak ended Tuesday. The Wichita State transfer finished with six points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Arkansas forward Trevon Brazile left midway through the first half with an apparent knee injury and didn’t return. The Missouri transfer entered the game third on the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game and first in rebounding, averaging 6.5.
Arkansas hardly looked the part of the No. 9 team in the country, but given previous results, the Razorbacks could likely be excused a rough patch.
UNC Greensboro hosts Marshall on Dec. 13.
Arkansas plays Oklahoma in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.