Sills showing growth off Arkansas bench

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Desi Sills of Arkansas dribbles past Donovan Donaldson of Tusculum in the first half Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, during an exhibition game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Desi Sills of Arkansas dribbles past Donovan Donaldson of Tusculum in the first half Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, during an exhibition game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — In need of a second-half spark on Saturday, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson called upon his toughest, most fearless player.

Desi Sills delivered.

Down six to Western Kentucky with 10:45 remaining following a Jared Savage 3-pointer, Sills scored six straight points in under two minutes to knot the score 62-62. Known more as a lockdown perimeter defender than a scorer, the former Jonesboro standout finished with a career-high nine points - all in the second half - in 16 minutes.

Sills (plus-2) was the lone Razorbacks reserve who was a net positive in the win.

"Desi did well. He did what he does," Anderson said Saturday. "He willed us back into this game. We went down I think eight points and I thought his defensive presence out there, his energy level, attack the basket, finishing, he was just dialed in."

After missing a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, Sills regularly attacked the rim after the break, even challenging Western Kentucky star freshman Charles Bassey for his first bucket of the afternoon. On his second, he split Savage and Taveion Hollingsworth at the top of the Hilltoppers' matchup zone and got a floater to fall in the paint, capping a string of five consecutive Arkansas scores.

Following misses from Daniel Gafford and Isaiah Joe on back-to-back possessions, Sills initiated the offense himself, took Hollingsworth off the dribble and scored with a left-handed runner through contact.

"Sitting over on the sideline knowing the starting five was kind of lacking on energy and my job is to come off the bench and give energy," Sills said. "That's what I wanted to do."

Sills' play against Western Kentucky is indicative of a recent uptick in production from the freshman. In Arkansas' last three games, he leads all Razorbacks bench players in scoring (8 ppg) and minutes (17 mpg). In that same span, Arkansas is scoring at a 1.23 points per possession clip with him in the lineup, per HoopLens analytics.

Despite his size, Sills has shown great ability to finish in the restricted area, too. Through the Western Kentucky game, Sills is 10/11 at the rim and 10/13 on 2-point looks for the season. His last miss inside the 3-point line came Nov. 18 against Indiana.

While Saturday served as something of a breakout game for Sills offensively, he's been fairly steady distributing the ball as well. He's totaled at least two assists in five games and handed out five twice, most recently in Arkansas' 121-89 win against Florida International. Those five assists turned into 12 Arkansas points.

For the season, Sills has assisted on 20 percent of the Razorbacks' buckets when on the floor, according to KenPom.

The continued development of Arkansas' bench will be vital over the final four games of the month heading into SEC play in January. We've seen glimpses from each of the Razorbacks' reserves throughout the course of nonconference play, whether it be Keyshawn Embery-Simpson's 14-point night at Colorado State or Reggie Chaney flirting with double-doubles.

Sills' consistency and growth over the last week of games shouldn't go unnoticed either and could pay big dividends for Arkansas in the coming months.

"That’s what I’m looking for," Anderson said. "I’m looking for those guys that in the waning moments, when you have to make plays, who are those guys going to be? (Sills' play) was very impressionable."

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