Smith beats timeline back from surgery

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, January 16, 2021

Arkansas forward Justin Smith returned to the Razorbacks’ lineup Saturday at Alabama, 15 days after undergoing surgery to repair his injured right ankle.

Smith played 18 minutes, scored 5 points and recorded 1 rebound, 1 assist and 1 steal in the Razorbacks’ 90-59 loss at Coleman Coliseum. He also committed three of the Razorbacks’ 18 turnovers.

Smith playing — much less starting — came as a surprise. On Friday, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said Smith had returned to practice, but had not completed a practice since the Jan. 1 arthroscopic debridement surgery.

“I think he kind of played like we expected he would,” Musselman said. “We wanted to play him between 15 and 20 minutes coming into the game and he played 18. Obviously because of the limited amount of time between games we weren’t going to have really have any time where he could go live. But I thought it was good to have him back. I thought he did a good job of moving the basketball and trying to play the right way.”

Smith was one of the Razorbacks’ most productive players prior to suffering an injury Dec. 30 at Auburn. He started Arkansas’ first nine games and was averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds.

Arkansas freshman Moses Moody said it was a surprise to get Smith back for the Alabama game. His rehabilitation from the surgery was expected to last between three and six weeks.

"Just knowing that he's back there to protect the rim and protect the paint, to do what he does, that's a positive to have him back in the rotation again and back at practice,” Moody said.

Alongside senior guard Jalen Tate, Moody said Smith — a graduate senior who transferred from Indiana prior to the season — can be valuable as the Razorbacks look to snap out of a stretch of poor play. Arkansas has lost four of its last five games, and the 31-point loss to Alabama was the program’s third-worst loss in an SEC game.

“Those are two guys that are really going to help us…being veterans who've been through times similar to this in their college careers,” Moody said. “They can help us get through it."

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