'Wired to score': Notae has habit of bouncing back from foul trouble

Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) drives past Vermont guard Robin Duncan during an NCAA Tournament game Thursday, March 17, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — For only the second time this season, Arkansas guard JD Notae was held scoreless in a half Thursday against Vermont.

Prior to the Razorbacks’ opening game at the NCAA Tournament, Alabama was the lone team to hold the consensus All-SEC first-team guard without a point over 20 consecutive minutes. The Crimson Tide did so prior to halftime on Feb. 12, when Notae was assessed two early fouls.

He responded that afternoon with a 12-point second half. On Thursday, in helping the Razorbacks advance to the Round of 32 against upset-minded New Mexico State, Notae scored 17 second-half points against Vermont.

And again, the scoring outburst followed two first-half fouls.

Arkansas coach Eric Musselman shed some light Thursday night on his locker-room conversation with Notae after he shot 0 of 4 from the floor and 0 of 2 at the free throw line in the first half against the Catamounts.

“I whispered to him, ‘I’m still going to run plays for you,’” Musselman said. “’You can't hide, man. I'm going to you. We're going to sink and swim with kind of your performance in the last 20 minutes.’ I thought he started attacking the rim a lot more.”

Notae finding himself in foul trouble ahead of halftime is not ideal for the Razorbacks, but he has made a habit of following up with big offensive second halves.

He has been saddled with two or more first-half fouls in 11 games this season, including each of the last three, yet Arkansas is 8-3 in those games. Notae punched back with at least 10-plus second-half points eight times.

“I think he gets to regroup, but if we went and played right now, he would figure out a way to score 15,” Musselman said. “He could be dead tired. He is just wired to score. … I don’t think two fouls affects him.

“I mean, I think he is sitting there going, ‘Coach, why am I not playing? I only have two. I'm allowed five.’”

Notae has scored in double figures 22 times this season in the second half alone, twice as often as he’s put up 10 or more before halftime. And 20 times he has scored more points in the second half than in the first.

The guard’s 17 points after the break against Vermont matched a second-half season high. It was one point shy of the 18-point first half he produced against Kentucky on Feb. 26.

Because of postgame media obligations, New Mexico State coach Chris Jans did not get to take in much of the Razorbacks’ first half against the Catamounts. He did see how Notae impacted the game after halftime.

“He certainly played really well in front of me last night, and, obviously, we’ve watched a bunch of tape at this point,” Jans said Friday. “I don't think you just go into the game saying, ‘We're going to limit him to whatever point number,' right? Ten, 12 — whatever it is, that's not how we're looking at it. 

“You have to try to make things as hard as you can, make him take as tough of shots as you can. I think most coaches would tell you the same thing, but at the end of the day he is one of those guys if he gets in the zone and feels it, it doesn't really matter what you do.

“The basket looks real big to him, and he can put up a big number.”

According to CBB Analytics, Notae has finished 60.5% of his attempts at the rim in the first half of games this season. That figure places him in the 43rd percentile nationally.

Within 4 feet of the rim after halftime, he has converted at a 70.2% rate (81st percentile).

For the season, Notae is averaging 10.5 points in the second half and 7.8 in the first.

“We expect a lot out of JD, especially if we know he is not going (offensively) because he is in foul trouble," Arkansas guard Au'Diese Toney said. "Once he comes back in the game, we know he is going to be that spark and get himself going again.

“He is just an amazing player and he can get himself going in any way.”