FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas repeatedly battled back from the Oklahoma Sooners ’13-0 game-opening spurt but you’d never know it by the 86-66 final score Saturday at the neutral site BOK Arena in Tulsa.
With a 31-12 flourish for the final 9:55 during which Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman had to be restrained and was ejected with 3:30 left, the Porter Moser coached 8-2 Sooners said 86-66 later to the Razorbacks. The whopping whipping, after the Razorbacks cut a 15-point peak first half deficit to 39-33 at intermission and reduced a 50-35 deficit to 57-54 during the second half, blemished 12th-ranked Arkansas from the unbeaten. The Hogs fall to 9-1 embarking on UA fall semester final exams before next Saturday night’s game with Hofstra at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.
Asked on the postgame Zoom press conference about his ejection, Musselman replied, “I’m not going to talk about the reffing. You guys watched the game. I had my opinion and I leave it at that.”
Presumably most opinions, certainly including his, credited Oklahoma regardless.
“I thought Oklahoma played an incredible game,” Musselman said. “I thought they cut hard. I thought they played hard. They rebounded the ball (36-29 over an Arkansas team previously dominating the boards). We dug ourselves a hole to start the game. We clawed ourselves back in there to be down three or four or whatever it was … But we got out-toughed today to be quite honest. I thought they played extremely hard.”
One Razorback, sophomore guard Devo Davis of Jacksonville, wasn’t out-toughed by anyone.
Davis scored a career high/game high 26 points with five rebounds and three assists vs. one turnover and was the straw stirring the drink of every Arkansas comeback.
“His best game of the year by far,” Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal said on postgame radio. “He propelled us and helped us keep it close. Yeah, Devo did a great job of battling. But you have to have other people step up with him. You’re not going to win a lot of games not converting shots and giving up 13 threes.”
Other than Davis, 9 of 21 from the field including 4 of 8 threes and 4 for 4 from the line, only JD Notae cracked scoring double digits. Notae scored 13 but hit only 3 of 14 from the field to do it. The timing of some Notae misses among his 2 of 7 threes didn’t sit well with his coach.
Though leading the SEC entering Saturday’s game with an 18.7 average, Notae is just 20 shooting 74 on treys, 42 more attempts than reserve guard Chris Lykes second most attempted treys on the team.
Asked if Notae feeling free to shoot threes has been addressed or if he just must shoot through it, Musselman replied “He thinks he’s capable of shooting himself out of it. I can promise you, that it has been addressed. So you know, if it’s been addressed and it continues to happen, you know, roles might have to change and I might have to look at another lineup or something. Because has been addressed over and over and over. I think we’re beyond the point of hoping that it works itself out by shooting out of it.”
Even if Notae had been on, OU’s 13 of 22 from the three among the Sooners’ 28 of 51 overall from the field likely would have been too much to overcome.
“It’s a re-occurring theme,” Musselman said. “We struggled to guard three-point shot and we struggled to contain the dribble drive. It was probably the worst individual defense since I’ve been at Arkansas. You can go across the board.”
And go across the board of Sooners exploiting it.
The five Sooners starters scoring ranged from Elijah Harkless’ 21 points, with 11 rebounds for a double-double plus four assists, and Jalen Hill’s 11 points.
In between, center Tanner Groves scored 16, guard Jordan Goldwire, 14, and guard Umoja Gibson, 12.
Each OU starter hit at at least one of the Sooners starters 12 of 19 treys.
“They got hot because our guys didn’t respect them enough, I guess, as three-point shooters,” Musselman said. “They started shooting it with confidence. Gibson is the player that we knew almost all of his shots are from 3 and he got seven shot attempts off from 3. Then Harkless, I thought he was phenomenal. He just completely, through toughness and sheer desire, had an incredible game.”
No Hog that played much, Davis included, was spared from Musselman’s 3-point defensive criticism.
“I think just trying to help on the dribble drive so much, and they were doing a lot of drive and kick-outs,” Davis said. “Like Muss said, if we did play better individual defense, maybe they wouldn’t get as many threes. We’re just going to continue to look at film, get back into practice and continue to work on it. That’s a good team over there.”
Too good even on Davis’ career scoring day.
“We were coming in to win and we didn’t get the job done,” Davis said. “ I just feel like we need to just get back in the lab and continue to work harder and get ready for the next game.”