All the buzz coming into Arkansas’ mid-week league game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville surrounded Ole Miss’ stingy zone defense that held its previous two opponents to 50 or fewer points, but the Razorbacks solved that morphing zone while authoring their own brand of stifling defense in a 74-59 win Wednesday.
The Hogs shut down Ole Miss from three-point territory to the tune of 1-of-16 shooting from distance for an anemic 6.3% while holding the Rebels to their lowest point total of the season, and offensively reserve guards JD Notae and Davonte “Devo” Davis led the way with a combined 33 points. Notae finished with a game-high-matching 19 points (included 8-of-9 free throw shooting), and Davis was a sparkplug off the bench in contributing 14 points (7-of-9 field goals) to go with 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 assist. Senior combo forward Justin Smith put in 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists, while sophomore stretch-5 Connor Vanover was productive at both ends of the floor as he had 8 points, a team-high 7 rebounds, and a game-high 5 blocks in 29 minutes.
Arkansas (13-4, 5-4 SEC, NCAA NET No. 32 entering Wednesday) has now won three consecutive league games while picking up its second Quad-2 win of the season, and the Hogs have defeated Ole Miss (8-7, 3-5 SEC, NCAA NET No. 64 entering Wednesday) for the third time in a row and in 7 out of the last 8 matchups between the two schools. Arkansas leads the all-time series, 50-33.
“We knew we should be compact on defense,” Vanover said after the win. “They like to get to the rim a lot, pretty physical, so I think I helped play a big part in stopping things down low. When people were trying to drive, just making them hesitate on taking shots that would normally be there.”
Second-year head coach Eric Musselman now has his first SEC three-game winning streak at Arkansas while improving his record in SEC games to 13-15. He’s also 2-0 coaching head-to-head against Ole Miss’ Kermit Davis.
“I thought we played at the pace that we wanted to tonight,” Musselman said in his post-game press conference. “We knew they were going to run the 1-3-1 (zone defense). I was really happy with how we handled that, although we had 12 turnovers, couples of them came late in the game. So, for the most part I thought we did a really good job attacking their press. We knew that we didn’t want the game in the 60s, that we had to get that thing at 70 or more. I thought we had really good consistency in both halves scoring 37 points.”
Next up for Arkansas is a road game against Oklahoma State in the SEC / Big 12 Challenge on Saturday, giving the Razorbacks another opportunity to pick up a coveted Quad-1 win as the Cowboys (10-4, 4-4 Big 12) are currently ranked No. 40 in the NCAA NET rankings. The Hogs are 1-4 in Quad-1 games and 2-0 in Quad-2 games.
Arkansas was up by 12 points at halftime, 37-25, and the Hogs would string together a 12-2 run capped by 6 consecutive points by Notae for their biggest lead of the game, 53-33, midway through the second half as Ole Miss could never get within striking distance from there.
Not only did Arkansas choke off Ole Miss’ three-point shooting, the Hogs were plus-8 on the glass (37-29), plus-10 in points-in-the-paint (34-24), and impressively they were plus-22 in bench scoring (33-11). Arkansas fell behind minus-4 in turnovers very early in the game, but managed to finish only minus-3 through 40 minutes (12-9). Offensively, the Hogs were effective inside and out as they were 26-of-54 overall from the field (48.1%), including 7-of-17 from 3 (41.2%). Arkansas knocked down 15-of-21 from the free throw line (71.4%).
In addition to the contributions made by Notae, Davis, Smith, and Vanover, the Hogs got 9 points each from guards Desi Sills and Jalen Tate. Freshman guard and leading scorer on the season Moses Moody matched his career low-water mark in scoring with 5 points in 19 minutes.
Ole Miss finished the game 25-of-57 overall from the field (43.9%) and 8-of-12 from the free throw line (66.7%), but the aforementioned poor showing beyond the arc was insurmountable. Senior guard Davontae Shuler led his team with 19 points, guard Jarkel Joiner had 11 points, and wing Luis Rodriguez finished with 10 points. That trio combined for 0-of-7 shooting from 3.
Musselman once again dialed up the starting 5 that has been on the court at the beginning of games the most for the Hogs — Moody, Sills, Vanover, Tate, and Smith.
Ole Miss used an early plus-4 advantage in turnovers to fuel a 7-0 run for a 9-5 lead, but Davis flipped the script for the Hogs with a quick 8-point, 3-rebound, and 2-steal outburst as Arkansas strung together an impressive 17-4 run for a 22-13 lead roughly midway through the first half.
Ole Miss chipped away to pull within a 5-point deficit, 24-19, but Sills, Tate, Vanover, Smith, and Notae each scored to power a 13-6 Hogs spurt to close out the first 20 minutes as Arkansas carried its largest lead, 37-25, into the break.
The Razorbacks made 13-of-28 field goals (46.4%), including 3-of-7 from 3 (42.9%), and made 8-of-10 free throws (80%), while holding OM to 11-of-27 from the field (40.7%), including a shut-out beyond the arc (0-of-9).