Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Embery-Simpson breaks out at Colorado State
Keyshawn Embery-Simpson of Arkansas shoots in the first half vs Tusculum Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, during an exhibition game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Keyshawn Embery-Simpson had something of a coming out party Wednesday night against Colorado State.
The freshman guard from Midwest City, Okla., scored 14 points in the Razorbacks' 98-74 win in Fort Collins, doubling his previous career high in 16 minutes off the bench. Embery-Simpson shot the ball with confidence - perhaps the most he's played with all season - and buried 5/6 shots and 4/5 from 3-point range.
"It came over time just getting some games under my belt," Embery-Simpson said Thursday in his first trip to the Bud Walton Arena interview room. "Of course playing with these guys they keep pushing and pushing me to get better each and every day, so obviously I knew it was going to come."
Embery-Simpson had scored just 15 points in wins against Montana State, UT-Arlington and Florida International the last two weeks, but played a key role in sparking a 38-7 advantage in bench production in Arkansas' first true road game of the season.
He added eight of his 14 points in 10 first-half minutes on 3/3 from distance, which included a 3-pointer with less than one minute to play before halftime that put the Razorbacks up 44-33 after the Rams cut Arkansas' sizable lead to eight following a Nico Carvacho bucket.
Daniel Gafford, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in the win despite battling early foul trouble, said he can sense Embery-Simpson is finding his groove and has seen steady improvement since the season opener that led to the best offensive showing of his young career.
"I think he's gotten more comfortable with playing now," Gafford said. "In other games, he was kind of shaky, but now he's more comfortable on the court and was able to knock down shots he works on every day."
Entering Colorado State, the freshman had made just 1 of his last 7 3-point attempts, but Mike Anderson, too, said Embery-Simpson getting into a rhythm on the offensive end was only a matter of time. Wednesday night, his offensive rating - points produced by a player per 100 possessions - was 220, far and away the highest of any game this season.
He was also one of three Razorbacks players to hit four 3-pointers in the win, joining Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones, who finished with a team-high 16 points, and was a plus-13 when on the floor.
"We know he’s capable of getting the ball in the hole," Anderson added. "It was good to see him do that last night consistently. So, hopefully that’s a building block for him as we continue to move forward."
Embery-Simpson's contributions on the offensive end in Fort Collins were undoubtedly a welcomed sight, but Anderson also alluded to his defensive instincts as a primary reason for his playing time. He has at least one steal in four of Arkansas' seven games - two in a pair of games - and even recorded a block in the narrow win over Indiana on Nov. 18.
Lineups featuring Embery-Simpson are allowing just 93.2 points per 100 possessions through seven games, according to SportsReference.
"I'll do whatever we need to win a game, whatever coach needs," he said. "Energy on both ends of the floor, hard work and leadership. Whatever we need."
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