'Always ready for the moment': Davis turns in another tournament gem

Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) reacts after scoring a three, Thursday, March 16, 2023 during the second half of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championship First Round game at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for the photo gallery.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Arkansas guard Davonte "Devo" Davis turned in another NCAA Tournament gem Thursday.

The Razorbacks’ post-season veteran led the way from a production and emotional standpoint during their 73-63 first-round victory over Illinois at Wells Fargo Arena. The junior finished with 16 points on 7 of 14 from the field and 6 rebounds, and helped Arkansas advance to play No. 1 seed Kansas on Saturday. 

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That final stat line is what the Razorbacks have come to expect from Davis this time of the year.

“Man, Devo is a March Madness legend,” Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith said. “He’s done a lot of stuff for this program in March Madness and even throughout the regular season. We trust 'Vo. He’s one of the leaders on our team and probably the voice of this team.

“We’re going to stick beside him, he’s going to stick beside us, and it’s a good combo.”

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Davis has scored in double figures in all three of his first-round NCAA Tournament games. As a freshman he delivered 12 points on 6 of 11 from the field against Colgate, and as a sophomore he scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting against Vermont.

His poise and composure steadied Arkansas after a slow shooting start. The Razorbacks missed their first seven field goal attempts, but Davis got them on the board with a mid-range jumper, then got another shot to drop 1:15 later.

He made three of Arkansas’ first four shots. Then adversity hit with 10:23 left in the first half when Davis was whistled for his second personal foul.

The Razorbacks, though, managed to carry a 36-26 lead into halftime. In the second half, Davis was a driving force in carrying them over the finish line as Illinois attempted to mount a comeback.

After the Illini cut Arkansas’ lead to 41-36 with 15:13 to play, Davis contributed five crucial points during a 10-0 Razorbacks run. He first knocked down a right-corner three-pointer, then tipped in a missed layup by freshman Jordan Walsh, and the Razorbacks were back up 11.

Following both scores, Davis was vocal and perhaps as emotional as any other moments this season, clapping his hands loudly and talking in the direction of Illini guard Terrence Shannon as he brought the ball across half court.

“I feel like the inner dog, the inner competitor in everybody comes out in March,” Walsh said when asked about Davis. “That’s just what it is. He’s a natural competitor and a guy that just really wants to win and compete. Whenever he’s winning, and especially whenever he’s competing, you’re going to see those emotions y’all got a glimpse of.

“We’ve been knowing it all season, though, but that’s him. That’s his personality.”

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Davis capped an impactful offensive performance with a three-pointer on the left side of the floor to push Arkansas’ lead to 62-50. He then looked at the Razorbacks’ bench and made the “ice in my veins” gesture.

“Devo is always ready for the moment,” Arkansas freshman guard Anthony Black said. “There’s not a moment too big for him. He did that as a freshman. He made really big shots in the tournament.

“He’s a super energetic guy. On the court is the same way. He loves basketball, and he loves to win. He’s a super good teammate. He plays with a lot of emotion and plays with his heart, which is good.”

Davis was stellar on the defensive end, too, with four steals. He had seven steals during eight games of tournament play in 2021 and 2022.

The four steals were his most in a game since tallying five during Arkansas’ 76-57 win over Bradley in North Little Rock on Dec. 17. StatBroadcast showed Davis had nine defensive stops Thursday and a team-best defensive rating of 79.3.

“He's got great mental toughness, and I think he knows that I really believe in him and really trust in him, whether he's on the ball, whether he's off the ball,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “There is oftentimes just a connection and a belief that he's going to come up in big moments, and certainly tonight was another one that he was able to do that for us with his scoring.

“And, let's face it, his defense as well. I mean, he was phenomenal defensively again.”

As is expected.