Mercer 61 Arkansas 74
Like many games last year, this one started rough for the Razorbacks. Which is understandable. This team will take some time to gel. It was clear tonight. It will probably happen most years under Eric Musselman. When the roster turnover is high, chemistry is lacking at the beginning of every season. Some teams will gel better than others at the start. Roles are still being defined. Rotations and lineups are being tinkered. The hard truth is you never know what you really have until the lights are the brightest and you are facing an opponent.
Offensively, Arkansas looked lost in the 1st half. This wasn’t a surprise after having done the same in the preseason games. There was passing and moving, but nothing got any one open. Truthfully, most of the team looked scared to shoot. It was odd. J.D. Notae came out firing from the get go. He finished with 30 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 7(!) steals. He was the only one who didn’t looked scared offensively.
Mercer is a team we knew would shoot a lot of 3s. They did just that. 31 of their 51 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. After the first half, the Bears were shooting 8-17 from 3. The Hogs were going under hand-off screens and getting beat on some great set plays drawn up by Greg Gary. As a result, Arkansas found themselves down 36-28 at halftime. It wasn’t pretty.
Arkansas began the 2nd half by putting a lot of pressure on ball-handlers and it created a lot of points. Arkansas took advantage of the turnovers all night. Forcing 18 of them and converting those turnovers into 21 points. The Hogs also dominated the paint 36-8. Offensive rebounds were a big reason as the Hogs poured in 15 second chance points.
The bright spots in this game were Au’Diese Toney and Chris Lykes. Toney is an animal on the glass. He goes hard on every possession. He capped off his Arkansas debut with 18 points and 11 rebounds with 7-9 shooting from the field. Chris Lykes is almost un-guardable. He is so quick. He had 16 points off the bench. He also drew 5 fouls which was a team high tonight.
The offense looked much smoother in the 2nd half. The players looked much more comfortable and aggressive. The result was 46 2nd half points on 55.2% shooting outscoring Mercer by 21.
The most surprising part of the game was Devo Davis on the offensive side of the ball. He didn’t attempt a single shot and had 5 turnovers. He was out of control and was trying to pass the ball like he was a part of the Harlem Globetrotters. It was confusing.
In my game preview, I stated how I wasn’t too worried about the defense, but was concerned about the offense. That came to fruition in today’s game. I know some may have issue with that considering Mercer made 13 three pointers. Here’s what I mean:
Mercer was always going to attempt a lot of 3s. They made plenty of them, but the Hogs gave up almost nothing in the paint. The Bears had just 8 points in the paint and only 3 second chance points. Mercer also only attempted 6 free throws. 13 threes and a heavy dose of paint touches or shots would have been an atrocious defensive game. They didn’t allow that tonight. Musselman will shore up some of the coverages on screens and we will see improvement.
Arkansas has work to do on offense. Stanley Umude was not much of a factor. They need to get him going. They ran some sets for him, but not much came from it. He’s made some good moves, but execution on finishing hasn’t been there. He’ll get going. Notae desperately needs to look to make his teammates better. I love his 30 points, but it came on 26 attempts. That’s not good and is not a recipe for elite success for this team. Better point guard play, more aggressiveness from the entire team, and better ball movement is needed. They’ll get there and working through some of the problems in games is how they will do it.
Overall, I am pleased with this game. You walk away with a 13-point win over a well-coached team, but you have a lot of teachable film to use.
The Hogs will play Gardner-Webb in Bud Walton Arena at 2pm on Saturday.