Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Tate bounces back after time on bench
Arkansas guard Jalen Tate (11) goes up for a shot against Kentucky's Isaiah Jackson during a game Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in Lexington, Ky. (Elliott Hess, UK Athletics via SEC Pool)
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas guard Jalen Tate watched the final 4:43 of the Razorbacks’ 81-77 loss at Oklahoma State on Jan. 30 from the visitor’s bench in Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Tate hadn’t fouled out.
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman made the decision it would be better to replace Tate — a fifth-year senior graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky — with freshman Davonte Davis with the game tied 71-71.
The 6-6 Tate was 1 of 5 from the field, scored 3 points, didn’t grab a rebound and had 4 turnovers compared to 2 assists in 25 minutes.
“I just didn’t think Jalen had it at all,” Musselman said after the game. “As far as our coaching staff was concerned, that was definitely the right move [to go with Davis] the way Tate was playing.”
Tate reflected Monday on his performance at Oklahoma State.
“I wanted to be out there to be able to help my teammates, honestly,” Tate said. “It’s not every day that one of your leaders or vets has to be sat down for the stretch. I completely take all the blame for that.
“I’m not sure so much if I wasn’t ready to play, but I know I wasn’t making enough plays at the time.
“I had to be able to put that behind me and realize that I can’t do that again. I can’t have a lapse like that as a leader of this team. I want to be there and win every single game we’re put in.”
The No. 20 Razorbacks (17-5, 9-4 SEC) have won all four games since losing at Oklahoma State, and Tate has played a key role.
Tate averaged 12.2 points, 4.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals to help Arkansas beat Mississippi State 61-45, win at Kentucky 81-80, win at No. 10 Missouri 86-81 in overtime and beat Florida 75-64 over the past four games.
“I think you can argue that I’ve been better, but I still don’t think I’m showing everything that I can really do or doing everything in my power,” Tate said. “It’s been good to put it behind me and be able to get wins now.
“Just get back on the right track. I’m more about team success than the individual, and getting us back on the right track has been great for us.”
Musselman kept Tate in the starting lineup after the Oklahoma State game.
“I think he’s had a great year, I really do,” Musselman said. “Sometimes you have bad games, and that’s just part of basketball.
“Sometimes as a coach you have a bad game. Sometimes as a husband you have a bad day. Sometimes as a dad you have a bad day. As a player, he had a bad game. He bounced back.”
Tate found himself back on the bench in the second half against Florida, but it was because he picked up his third foul with 16:50 left.
The Razorbacks led 45-35 when Tate came out of the game. Their lead had been cut to 54-48 by the time he came back in at the 10:15 mark.
Florida had the momentum, continued its comeback and took a 62-61 lead with 4:40 left on a basket by former Jacksonville standout Tyree Appleby.
Davis put Arkansas back in front 63-62 with a driving basket.
Tate hit a jump shot to make it 65-62, drew a foul and hit 1 of 2 free throws. He then made a steal that led to two free throws by Moses Moody as the Razorbacks closed the game on a 14-2 run.
“He’s like the head of the snake for us,” Davis said of Tate. ‘When he’s rolling, we’re all rolling.”
Musselman said the Razorbacks got back in sync when Tate got back in the game.
“We all saw when he was out of the game how much we missed him,” Musselman said. “We missed him tremendously when he was out for a short time because he picked up fouls, and I wanted to have him available down the stretch.”
Senior forward Justin Smith said Tate is a calming factor for the Razorbacks.
“When he has the ball and he gets us in our sets and gets us in our offense, it just moves so much better,” Smith said. “He’s a willing passer, and he’s looking for us just as much as he’s looking for his own shot.”
Tate said he had confidence in his teammates while sitting out and that basketball is a game of runs.
“I felt like I let my team down a little bit getting into foul trouble,” he said. “I can’t put myself in those positions, especially down the stretch last week or in the postseason.”
Going into Wednesday night’s game against No. 6 Alabama in Walton Arena, Tate is averaging 11.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 29.6 minutes and has team-highs of 94 assists and 32 steals. He’s shooting 51.1% from the field (95 of 186) and 37.7% on three-pointers (20 of 53). He’s shooting 67.3% (35 of 52) on free throws, but is 11 of 13 in the past four games.
“Really, it’s the intangibles that make Jalen so important to us,” Musselman said. “[Getting] loose balls, rebounding his position, [creating] extra possessions. Smart player.
“All those things I think are really important, other than just scoring the basketball. Even being a player that’s willing to be a decoy in a play, or setting weak-side pairs action to get a teammate a shot.
“Being vocal in a timeout, and giving feedback and input to his teammates as well as the coaching staff.”
Tate was the Horizon League defensive player of the year last season. For the Razorbacks, he always draws the opponent’s top perimeter player.
“Your shots can feel amazing, but they’re not going to go in, or it might not be your night,” Tate said. “It might be someone else’s night. So you’ve got to work to get them the ball a little bit, especially as a point guard.
“But defensively I can always take on the best assignment and know that I can do whatever it takes to control how many shots they get. Contest it every single time. Take a charge. I feel like on the defensive end, I can really impose my will.”
Musselman said he’s not surprised Tate didn’t let the Oklahoma State game negatively affect him.
“Being a senior and being a player that’s been through injuries, rehab and come back [at Northern Kentucky], I think he’s got great mental toughness,” Musselman said. “When you lose a game or you have a bad game or you’re in a shooting slump, you’ve got to figure out a way to mentally bounce back as quick as you can so it doesn’t linger.”
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