The Arkansas Razorback basketball team closed out its non-conference schedule on Tuesday night with an emphatic 81-55 win over the Elon Phoenix. This was a much-needed win coming off of a worrisome two-game losing streak in which they were first blown out by Oklahoma, followed by dropping a shocking upset in Little Rock to Hofstra.
The momentum-swinging win over Elon was sparked by an unexpected cast of Hogs, led by Little Rock transfer Kamani Johnson. The 6-7 forward had 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks during his 17 minutes of action. He played well alongside fellow forward transfer, Trey Wade of Wichita State.
Wade earned the start and put up a well-rounded stat line in his 21 minutes: 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists, and 1 steal on 60% shooting from the field. Jaxson Robinson, yet another transfer, also had his best game as a Hog, recording 14 points on 3-6 shooting from long range to go along with 3 rebounds and a block.
While this win was essential for the Hogs before facing their first SEC opponent in Mississippi State next Wednesday, 12/29, it may have left us with more questions than answers. The rotation looked to be solidified before the last two losses for the Hogs, but did the unexpected production of bench players leave rotation minutes up for grabs? Did the Hogs turn a corner in their most recent win, or was it pure talent overpowering a lesser team? Will Eric Musselman rest at all this Christmas or watch film for the next seven days straight?
Musselman told Chuck Barrett in his pregame interview that he wanted to get “basically everyone a starting experience because you never know what injuries or illnesses will happen down the road.” He held true to his word, starting five players not named Devo Davis, Jaylin Williams, Au’Diese Toney, or Stanley Umude, widely considered to be four staples in the rotation before the season started. While all four of these players still saw time on the court, it was Chris Lykes, JD Notae, Jaxson Robinson, Trey Wade, and Connor Vanover who earned the start in the Hogs final non-conference tune-up.
J. Robinson and Wade’s played well, as previously mentioned, by Vanover only saw four minutes of action and recorded a rebound and two missed field goal attempts. His place in the rotation is shaky at best. Lykes led the team in scoring with 21 points, thanks in large part to his impressive 12-12 performance from the free-throw line. Notae continued his improved shooting, making three of his nine (33%) 3-point attempts and cashing in on his trip to the FT line going 2-2 on the night.
One of the first guards off the bench was KK Robinson, who made his first shot attempt from distance and finished the game with 3 points, 1 assist, and 1 steal on 50% shooting from distance while playing aggressive defense. Kamani Johnson was the big story off the bench, as previously mentioned. He may have earned himself a more significant role moving forward as well. Musselman noted his tenacious presence on the glass postgame, saying “we know Kamani is tough and he’s not going to back down from anybody. He gave us a level of physicality and had a few rebounds he grabbed out of his area.” via Scottie Bordelon on Twitter.
Jaylin Williams had a relatively quiet game with 3 points and 6 rebounds in his 20 minutes. Devo Davis played 35 minutes off the bench and contributed 6 rebounds and 6 assists without attempting a single shot, the first major-conference player to do so since 2010-11.
One of the biggest surprises of the night was the lack of presence from either Au’Diese Toney or Stanley Umude, combining for 13 total minutes, 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 blocks on 50% shooting. This can likely be attributed to a combination of the excellent play of Johnson and Wade and a poor opponent not requiring the forwards’ usually services at all in the second half.
Still, the question reigns, are minutes up in the air? KK Robinson has shown his ability to facilitate the offense, though he struggles with defending without fouling. Wade and Johnson leave some quickness to be desired, but their intensity and strength on defense and both backboards make it hard to keep them off the floor. Jaxson Robinson is making it harder and harder to not give him at least 20 minutes per game. Where do these minutes come from if any of these players are going to become staples in the rotation? I’m not a coach, so I can’t answer that question – but you can bet I’ll be watching for answers moving forward!
Season Changing Win?
The Hogs put together arguably their best outing of the season against Elon. The problem is, Elon is now 4-10 with several double-digit losses on the season. Is it easy to sweep this game under the rug due to the talent difference, or was this truly a turning point for the Razorbacks’ season?
In short, something felt different on The Hill Tuesday night. The ball was finding open players, the energy was a different level on the court than it’s been in weeks, and the Hogs took care of business against a team they were expected to beat – something that can’t be said about every non-conference game this season.
According to Andrew Joseph of Whole Hog Sports, Arkansas G Devo Davis and F Kamani Johnson called a players-only team meeting last Sunday following what was deemed as an unacceptable loss to Hofstra on Saturday.
Musselman also alluded to this meeting, saying this after the Elon game:
We won’t truly know if this change of mentality is real or just talk until the Hogs face Mississippi State next Wednesday, but all signs point to a turning point for the Hoop Hogs.
Coach Eric Musselman will have his hands full again soon enough with the intense SEC schedule looming, but do fans think he will take a much-needed break for Christmas? If I were a betting man, I’d say his holiday break won’t last a full day.
Hopefully, Coach Musselman spends some quality time with his family and rests physically and mentally – Hog fans are going to need him in tip-top shape for the rest of the season!
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