Hoop Hogs stock-risers following Arkansas’ 97-83 win over Furman on Monday at BWA

By Kevin McPherson
on 2023-12-05 13:06 PM

By Kevin McPherson

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks have now won back-to-back games following a three-losses-in-four-games stretch as they began their December slate of games on Monday with a track-meet-esque 97-83 win over Furman at Bud Walton Arena.

Although the Razorbacks struggled with their three-point field goal defense (again) and keeping their opponent off the offensive glass (again) while watching helplessly as Trevon Brazile (ankle) suffered his second early-December injury going back to last season, in this space we’ll focus on the who’s and what’s in terms of the positives — the stock-risers — for the Hoop Hogs (now 6-3). Arkansas’ next game is neutral-site clash against 19th-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday, Dec. 9 (3 p.m. CT, ESPN2) at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

– Senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis: The senior guard and returning SEC All Defensive performer from Jacksonville had a masterful floor game — 7 points, a game-high 10 rebounds, a game-high 8 assists, ZERO turnovers, and a game-high boxscore plus-15 in 38 minutes in the in over Furman. Davis’ efficiency shooting the ball has been off as Arkansas moves through non-conference play, but he’s averaging a career low in turnovers per game and typically draws the toughest defensive assignments game-to-game. Against the Paladins on Monday, Davis was blue-collar on defense and on the glass, and on offense he was patient (he was not hunting his shot) while finding teammates in halfcourt and in transition throughout the game. The fact that he continues to take care of the basketball — he’s had a handful of ZERO turnover games on the season — ensures the Hogs will get more shots on goal. His versatility value runs deep, as his head coach Eric Musselman points out. Stock: WAY UP

“I thought he was phenomenal,” Musselman said following the win. “I thought it was his best game of the year. We played him all over the place. We played him at the 1. We played him at the 2. We played him at the 3. We played him at the 4. He saved us from a rebounding standpoint, without a question. His defensive rebounding saved the game for us.”

– Senior guard Khalif Battle: On a night of dueling offenses, it was another 20-plus-point scoring outing for Battle (in fact, his fifth of the season) as he notched a game-high 25 points (7-of-11 field goals, including 4-of-7 from 3, and 7-of-8 free throws) to go with a boxscore plus-14 with 20 of his points coming in the second half of a back-and-forth shootout. Battle achieved a career milestone on Monday as well, reaching the 1,000-point scoring mark. In the past couple of games — wins over then-No. 7 Duke (80-75) and Furman (97-83) — Battle has averaged 23.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. His efficient volume scoring has been consistent so far, and his added dimension as a set-up facilitator off drives and good ball movement is a much-needed needle-mover for the Hogs’ offense. Stock: WAY UP

“We tried to run plays for him,” Musselman said. “We brought him off staggered (screens) a couple times on our 50-series. We ran some isolations at the top of the key. We found him in transition. I mean, he’s a dynamic scorer. There’s not many players in college basketball that can have 20 in a half. Certainly, he can create his own shot. He’s a high-volume free-throw attempt player. When your team needs points in a hurry and he just rises up over people. If you crowd him, he beats you off the bounce and draws free throws … I think KB is understanding that he’s drawing extra defenders and when you draw an extra defender, you do your job and you’ve got to move it.”

– Senior forward Chandler Lawson: They all call him “CLaw” or the “glue guy” — teammates and coaches, that is — but we’ve repeatedly referred to the 6-7 Memphis transfer with 7-7 wingspan as a “connector,” and once again that’s exactly what he was on Monday as he finished with a career-high 19 points (8-of-10 field goals, including 1-of-2 from 3, and 2-of-2 free throws) to go with 3 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 assist, 1 steal, and a boxscore plus-11 in 18 minutes. In a game where Arkansas began challenging Furman’s porous defense by attacking the paint and rim, Lawson was a key piece to that plan as he scored mostly around the basket. Defensively, he led the Hogs’ 10-1 block party with the aforementioned three erasers. In his last two games — wins over Duke and Furman — Lawson has averaged 13.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks. Stock: WAY UP

“Chandler means a great deal to the team,” Musselman said. “Attitude. Following the game plan. Being a great teammate. Being no-maintenance. He’s a 10 out of 10 in all those categories. When you have a player really follow a game plan, good things happen. If you deviate from the game plan, not so good things happen individually and for your unit that’s on the floor with you. We’re still trying to figure out who is going to follow a game plan and compete and play with their instincts.”

– Freshman guard Layden Blocker: The 6-2 Little Rock native continued to be a spark off the bench on both sides of the ball as he contributed 9 points (4-of-5 field goals and 1-of-4 free throws), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks in 23 minutes. As stated previously in this space, Blocker’s combination of burst, toughness, activity, and instincts to attack on offense and disrupt on defense stand out among a veteran backcourt. In the team’s last four games, Blocker has averaged 9.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 block, and 1.5 turnovers in 25.0 minutes while shooting 68.4% from the field and 63.2% free throws. Stock: WAY UP

“Well, he’s tough, he competes, he’s fearless,” Musselman said. “We can’t teach that. Those are innate things. He has got to get better at converting from the foul line. He has got to get better in late-game situations. He gambled against Stanford and almost cost us the game. Tonight, he fouled a three-point shooter which ended up in a four-point play late game. He has got to get better in late-game situations, but he does a lot of things we can not teach.  He has got to improve as a shooter, but he’s got all these qualities that are super great because I can’t teach a guy to be tough. We can’t teach a guy to be competitive. We can’t teach somebody to be fearless and he’s got all those things which are non-teachable things. Now, these other things, we feel are teachable. He’s a freshman, so he’s got a learning curve, but he’s playing, because of those three things: toughness, fearlessness, will to win, all those things he’s great at.”

– Junior wing Tramon Mark: He looked relaxed and loose during pre-game warmups, but it was unclear whether or not the team’s leading scorer (18.4 points per game coming in) would be able to play after missing the Duke game following a nasty spill at the end of the North Carolina tilt on Nov. 24 in The Bahamas. Although he failed to start for the first time this season, Mark played 26 minutes off the bench while contributing 7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. Mark was all about the dynamics of what was best for the team when he was approached by Musselman regarding playing off the bench in his return, and his impact was felt at both ends of the floor. Perfect timing for a return to the court as a lead-up to Arkansas’ upcoming neutral-site game against the 19th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday in Tulsa. Stock: UP

“We met this morning at shootaround and I told him ‘Hey, I would like to give these guys an opportunity to start that played well against Duke,’ Musselman explained. “Asked him his feelings because I think the one thing you learn in the NBA is you don’t change a player’s rotation or role based on injury. Certainly, he had an injury. If you change the rotation based on productivity, that is what it is. But certainly the game T-Mark was coming off, I did not want him to feel that his role as a starter was changing based on the fact that he had an injury. Because, again, the place I grew up at in the pros, you just don’t do that. So, I thought it was worthy of a conversation. He said ‘I figured that was coming coach. I’m cool with it. Anything you think will help us win.’ He had great maturity when he and I talked earlier today.”

- Offense continues upward trajectory: The ball movement had energy once again as the Hogs had 21 assists on sizzling 37-of-61 field goal shooting (60.7%), including 8-of-19 from 3 (42.1%) as Arkansas led by as many as 20 points in the second half. It’s an offense that has generated a combined 38 assists on a collective 63 made field goals in the Hogs’ last two games compared to only 26 combined assists on a collective 99 made field goals in the previous four games. In the last two outings, Arkansas combined to shoot 46-of-73 inside the arc (63.0%) and 17-of-41 from 3 (41.7%). Speaking of three-point shooting, the Hogs had three different players make at least four three-pointers in a single game in the last three contests (Mark against North Carolina, Brazile against Duke, and Battle against Furman). Against the Paladins, the Razorbacks bench scored more than half the team’s points (51) and the team more than doubled up Furman in points-in-the-paint (51-24) while finishing plus-7 in transition offense (23-16). Stock: WAY UP

“I thought we did a great job offensively taking care of the ball in the second half,” Musselman said. “The 21 assists, we built off the 17 assists we had against Duke. Didn’t really turn the ball over. Only four turnovers in the second half. We shot 61% from the field for the game. Thought we did good job, bench points awesome. Chandler Lawson inside 8 of 10 from the field, 3 blocks, 51 bench points, 25 from KB, 52 points in the paint. A lot of good things.

- Stingy defense? Well some of it: For the second consecutive game, the Hogs held an opponent coming in with a 50-plus-percent overall field goal shooting efficiency well below the number. Against Furman, Arkansas held the Paladins to 28-of-73 overall field goal shooting (38.4%), including only 16-of-41 on two-point field goals (39.0%) which was well below the team’s elite 62.1% efficiency shooting inside the arc coming into the game. It was a similar showing in the previous win over Duke as the Razorbacks mostly stifled the Blue Devils’ top-10 nationally ranked offense holding the visitors to 24-of-67 overall field goals (35.8%), including only 18-of-45 on two-point field goals (40.0%) which was well below Duke’s near-60-percent efficiency shooting inside the arc coming into the game. In both of the last two games, the Razorbacks dominated blocked shots (10-1 against Furman and 10-3 against Duke). Stock: UP

“I thought in the first half holding them to 35 points and 36% from the field, pretty good,” Musselman said. “I thought our first-half transition defense was really good. But we have to play much better across the board.”

- Depth: Is it driving deeper and better rotations, or driving Muss bonkers? The answer is it’s a combination of both — mostly the latter to hear Musselman tell it — but it’s a good problem to have as he continues to play most if not all of his bench in both halves of most games in 2023-24. With Mark out against Duke last week and Brazile out in the closing stages against Furman as the Paladins were fighting back within a single-digit deficit on Monday, the Hogs had a spoil of “next man up … ahem, next men up” options at Musselman’s disposal. There’s quality depth at each position, and that helps make the choices multiple for the Head Hog as he tries out different combinations, even if that process is more about getting someone — anyone — to execute the game plan than it is about the luxury of being able to comfortably experiment with different personnel packages. Given that Musselman is a coach that prefers a tight 7-8 player rotation, so one’s curiosity drifts toward what kind of expanded rotation potentially could be employed when the start of the 18-game SEC grind begins in early January. Musselman weighed in on that, and whichever path he chooses to navigate with his roster there is no question this crew is his deepest, most versatile, and most diverse in terms of skill sets since arriving at Arkansas in the spring of 2019. Stock: UP

“I don’t know,” Musselman answered when asked what state of play his sometimes liberal substitution patterns and depth-flaunting will be at once league play begins. “Eventually, guys are going to either… We’re giving guys opportunities. You’ve got to play with consistency. You can’t be good one night and then struggle one night. You’ve got to have mental toughness that if the shot is not falling or you’re not scoring that you are defending, you’re diving on the floor for loose balls, you’re scrapping out 50-50 balls. We don’t have everybody doing that right now, which is okay. We’ve got to figure out who will do that because you’ve got to win 50-50 balls to win close games.  Devo is playing a lot of minutes because he does that, regardless of what he is doing offensively. He is getting 50-50 balls. He is competing with the guys guarding, so tonight was a product of guys not going over dribble hand-offs and giving up threes so next man got the chance to go in.

“It was kind of a revolving door, not based on depth. It was based on not following the game plan and giving up threes. I’d love to tell you it was all based on depth and we wanted to get a bunch of guys in but it was a bunch of guys in but it was several guys not doing what they were supposed to do.”

(Last updated: 2023-12-05 13:06 PM)