Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Jimmy's gem: Whitt again flashes mid-range brilliance
Arkansas South Dakota Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, during play in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt was already in a groove offensively entering Friday night, averaging 14.6 points and shooting 54 percent in the Razorbacks' previous three games.
Against South Dakota, he was nearly unstoppable.
The grad transfer guard scored a game-high 24 points on a sizzling 11 of 14 from the floor on the Coyotes, leading the charge in Arkansas' impressive 77-56 win. Whitt's mid-range jumpshot, which has long been his bread and butter, was again on full display.
"I think that's the unique part of my game. I'm going to get to where I'm most comfortable, and that's that mid-range area," Whitt said. "I started off a little hot and then my teammates, when I went to the bench, were just telling me, 'If you can shoot it every time, shoot it. It's one of those nights for you.'
"I think I was just able to get to my sweet spots and knock them down."
Whitt nearly doubled his made 2-point jumpers total against South Dakota. Through four games he had knocked down 10 of 22 looks. Friday, he was sensational, burying 8 of 11 such shots.
Whitt was 3 of 4 on in-between jumpers in the first half. His lone miss came in the closing seconds as he got to his spot around the free throw line but misfired. He then went 5 of 7 after halftime. Whitt also finished at the rim three times in the win, twice in the second half.
"Jimmy’s shot selection is so good," said Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, who improved to 5-0 with the Razorbacks. "Every time he shoots it, it’s a good shot. It's close to the rim. He elevates over the defense.
"People probably don’t recognize there are a lot of times where the other team’s 4-man guards him, and I think that’s an advantage for us. Teams know that he’s got kind of an inside game and every time somebody puts a 4-man on him, he kills that matchup, so hopefully other teams will keep doing it."
Whitt's 24 points matched a career high set in his final game at SMU against Cincinnati on March 15. Whitt set a program record Friday for the most points scored by a guard in the 3-point era (1986-87 to present) without attempting a 3-pointer, according to HogStats.com.
It was also the eighth 20-point game of his career and first in 37 games with the Razorbacks.
The Columbia, Mo., native said after the win he models his game in a way after three-time NBA champion Shaun Livingston, who carved out a successful professional career operating in the mid-range area.
"That is a dude I love to watch," Whitt said. "I know a lot of people like to watch the all-stars and the big-name players, but Shaun Livingston is someone I have watched. When I try to watch guys like that, guys that do get to that mid-range shot, just how they work it at the next level, the pro level, I do try to put some of that into my game."
Musselman was also proud of the way Whitt defended South Dakota forward Stanley Umude, who, in the Coyotes' first five games of the season, was averaging 16.4 points and shooting 48.8 percent inside the arc. Umude was limited to 13 points on 4 of 13 shooting and posted his lowest offensive rating of the season (85.0), according to KenPom.
"We felt he could get his shot better than anybody on South Dakota’s team," Musselman added of Umude. "So Jimmy’s guarding their 4 man, and I thought that was a really key matchup for us because he is a tough cover. Jimmy made every shot that he took a contested shot."
Whitt, who was plus-21 in the win, put together his best game at Arkansas and continued his hot offensive play of late ahead of the Razorbacks' first road test of the season at Georgia Tech on Monday.
Musselman, who typically sticks to team-oriented notes in his opening statements following games, couldn't help but applaud his transfer guard.
"For all those analytic guys who think the mid-range game has gone out of basketball, welcome to Jimmy Whitt’s world," Musselman said.
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