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.
Hogs' freshman trio rises to the occasion
Arkansas wing Jordan Walsh reacts on Thursday, March 9, 2023, during the second half of the 2023 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman often points to the youth and inexperience on his roster while previewing games and in recapping the Razorbacks’ wins and losses.
That youth rose to the occasion on a grand stage Thursday and pushed No. 10 seed Arkansas to a 76-73 victory over No. 7 seed Auburn at the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn.
In winning its first game since Feb. 21, Arkansas (20-12) placed four players in double figures. Three of them were freshmen.
Point guard Anthony Black stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 19 points on 6 of 10 from the field, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in 37 minutes. Shooting guard Nick Smith added 14 points on 12 field goal attempts and made 2 of the team’s 3 three-pointers.
And wing Jordan Walsh, despite experiencing what appeared to be lower back pain, pitched in 11 points off the bench on 4 of 5 from the field. He had 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block as well.
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Smith played the hero in the game’s final minute, knocking down a pull-up jumper from the right short corner to give Arkansas a 74-73 lead with 20 seconds remaining.
It came less than 30 seconds after Arkansas native Allen Flanigan (Little Rock Parkview) gave the Tigers a 73-72 lead after trailing by as many as 15 points.
“My team believed in me to shoot the pull-up jump shot,” Smith said in a post-game interview on SEC Network. “I made it, so that was game.”
Collectively, the trio guided the Razorbacks in knocking off a team expected to be in the NCAA Tournament field and leaving no doubt that they belong, too.
“I thought our young guys especially stepped up and did a great job physically,” Musselman said.
Black and Walsh keyed an impressive first half for the Razorbacks with a combined 18 points and eight rebounds. After the break, it was Black and Smith who teamed to send the Tigers home early.
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Black, who had 5 assists after halftime, and Smith scored 22 of Arkansas’ 39 second-half points on 9 of 16 from the field. And they accounted for the Razorbacks’ first 17 points of the second half.
For Black, it was the second time this season (Creighton) he recorded at least 19 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a game. Walsh also added 10-plus points off the bench for the second straight game and fifth time in 2022-23.
And Smith continued to be a presence to respect from distance. He is shooting 43.3% beyond the arc in the last five games.
“Early in the game, Nick wasn't really scoring like he usually does,” Black said. “We were telling him to keep going. (In the) second half they're going to drop. … We trust in him. He's one of the best scorers in college.
“He made a good move and made a big shot (late).”
Black and Walsh each took advantage of mismatches on the glass against smaller Auburn defenders and converted key second-chance buckets. Black had a pair of scores and an assist following his three offensive rebounds.
“Black is a terrific player,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I think giving him credit for crashing, but our guys didn't do a good enough job of putting a body on him. I don't recall us getting a foul checking him out. That wasn't an issue.
“We should have been more physical keeping him off the boards.”
Walsh added a jumper and put-back dunk immediately after his two offensive boards.
“His minutes were incredible, to be honest with you,” Musselman said.
Junior guard Davonte Davis led the Razorbacks with 10 rebounds, including nine on the defensive end. He praised Walsh’s effort and energy.
“I think Jordan Walsh really helped us on the offensive boards,” Davis said, “and when he got in there and crashed the boards right behind his man.”
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