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 four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Council takes authority down the stretch
Arkansas guard Ricky Council (1) dunks over a Troy defender during a game Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — As the No. 11 University of Arkansas basketball team struggled to put away Troy on Monday night, Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said it looked like some of his players were still on Maui time.
“But Ricky Council is on Arkansas time,” Musselman said. “And he played with great energy.”
Council, a 6-6 junior guard, took over the game in the nick of time for the Razorbacks and led them to a 74-61 victory in Walton Arena.
Troy went ahead 58-55 with 6:53 on Zay Williams’ layup, but Arkansas responded with a 17-0 run — including 11 points by Council — over a 5:22 span to take a 72-58 lead with 1:03 left.
“Our defense started picking up, we started getting stops, we started scoring on our end,” Council said. “We’ve seen it before. That’s what we do when our defense gets going, we start scoring and making runs.
“And that’s definitely what helped us get past them.”
Council, a transfer from Wichita State, finished with a season-high 27 points and hit 12 of 18 shots, including 5 of 5 to final 6:25. His driving layup with 5:36 left put Arkansas ahead to stay 59-58 after there had been 11 lead changes and six ties.
“I just wanted to get downhill because I was shooting too many threes,” said Council, who missed his first three attempts from beyond the arc. “Coach was like, ‘Rack the ball, rack the ball.’
“So I was like, ‘All right.’ I started driving and if they step up, I’m going to dish it. If not, I’m going to finish. That just led to me getting going.”
Council finally hit his only three-pointer of the game from well beyond the line to give Arkansas a 62-58 lead with 4:34 left. He had no choice but to fire up the ball with the shot clock running down.
“I hate that sidestep three that he takes, but I loved it on that particular shot,” Musselman said with a smile. “That’s the only one he’s shot that I’ve liked since we met each other.”
Arkansas (6-1) finished the game by outscoring Troy 19-3.
“They just made plays down the stretch,” Trojans Coach Scott Cross said. “Council kind of took over one-on-one and hit some big shots.
“That 40-foot three that he hit was a back-breaker.”
“I thought that it took spirit away from Troy,” Musselman said. “That was a momentum-changing shot.”
Council said the shot felt great.
“I actually got to do a lot of that last year,” he said. “I kind of cut that out of my game this year.
“Coach wanted me to focus more on catch-and-shoot [threes], not off-the-dribble. I’m used to it. I’ve done it before. We needed it because there was like three seconds left [on the shot clock].”
Arkansas senior center Mahki Mitchell had a season-high 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. He scored 10 points in the first half when Troy led 33-31.
“We weren’t attacking,” Council said. “We were just throwing it side to side and throwing up shots, but luckily [Mitchell] was rebounding it and putting it in. That helped us stay in the game early.”
Arkansas freshman guard Anthony Black had 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
Senior guard Nelson Phillips led Troy with 22 points.
Arkansas was without junior guard Davonte Davis, who is taking some time away from basketball, Musselman said.
Troy played without sophomore guard Duke Miles, who is averaging a team-high 14.0 points off the bench.
It was Arkansas’ first since returning from the Maui Invitational, where the Razorbacks went 2-1 last week.
“Definitely we were asleep at the beginning,” Council said. “They played a zone, which we haven’t seen that much this year, and it was aggressive, too.”
Mitchell said there was a little bit of jet-lagged feeling.
“That was anticipated. Coach already knew,” Mitchell said. “We just had to stick with it, and we came out in the second half strong.”
Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith, a preseason first team All-SEC pick, made his college debut after missing the first six games recovering from a right knee surgery. But Smith played just six minutes — all in the first half — and was 0-of-2 shooting.
Council turned out to be the game’s big story.
“Ricky in Maui became our go-to guy,” Musselman said. “He’s really tough to stop going to the basket, and then he draws free throws attempted. And then his mid-range pull-up game, he rises over people.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence and he’s playing with a lot of joy.”
Arkansas had 15 turnovers, including five offensive fouls. But that didn’t stop Council from playing aggressively.
“I just kept attacking the rim and it was coming to me, honestly,” he said. “The only thing I was worried about was them taking charges. They took a lot of charges on us. So I was just reading the defense and finishing at a high rate tonight.”
Council punctuated the game with a dunk with 43 seconds left when he took the ball the length of the court.
”Honestly, I thought it was going to be harder than that because they were pressuring us all game, but I got past my dude a little bit,” Council said. “So I was like ‘I’m just going to take it to the goal and see what happens.’ “
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