Hog Calls:

Older players have stepped up during March run

By: Nate Allen
Published: Tuesday, March 21, 2023
Arkansas forward Kamani Johnson (20) rebounds during an NCAA Tournament game against Kansas on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
( Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas forward Kamani Johnson (20) rebounds during an NCAA Tournament game against Kansas on Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.

FAYETTEVILLE — Throughout Arkansas’ Sweet 16 season, these Razorbacks’ identity applied mostly to their three McDonald’s High School All-Americans.

Not last Saturday, asserts Anthony Black.

The freshman point guard, most consistent throughout this up-and-down season for the Razorbacks (22-13), deferred to the age-before-beauty adage describing Arkansas upending Kansas 72-71 in last Saturday’s second-round West Regional in Des Moines, Iowa.

Arkansas advanced to play Connecticut in Thursday’s West Regional semifinal in Las Vegas.

“Older players carried us all night,” Black said. “The younger players had to take a back seat.”

McDonald’s All-Americans Black, Nick Smith and Jordan Walsh — though Walsh was outstanding Saturday — played second fiddle to juniors Davonte “Devo” Davis and Ricky Council, and senior Kamani Johnson.

The Hogs have become Big Dance accustomed to Devo’s doings. The guard from Jacksonville and lone three-year letterman for Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, was proclaimed “Mr. March,” on Saturday’s post-game radio by assistant coach Gus Argenal.

Davis was instrumental in Musselman’s 25-7 and 28-9 Razorbacks ascending to the Elite Eight the previous two years. Never, though, so singly instrumental as 25 points —10 consecutively — and 8 rebounds against Kansas, and 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals in last Thursday’s 73-63 first-round victory over Illinois.

Council, the 6-6 junior guard transfer via Wichita State, has been a season-long force and leading scorer averaging 16.1 points. He double-doubled with 18 points and 12 rebounds against Illinois. Versus Kansas, Council cashed 10 of 11 crucial free throws. He scored 21 points with 6 rebounds and 4 assists playing all 40 minutes.

Johnson, the lone senior completing his eligibility in this NCAA Tournament, became the front seat surprise.

The 6-7 Brooklyn-born forward, transferring to Musselman’s Razorbacks via Arkansas-Little Rock, was mostly a 2021-22 spare part. This season Johnson only played 24 of Arkansas’ 33 games before the NCAA Tournament.

Musselman started him against Illinois and Kansas.

Against Illinois, Johnson logged 5 points and 5 rebounds in 12 minutes.

“Kamani led the game in offensive rebounds,” Musselman said. “You’re talking a player that played 12 minutes and had four offensive rebounds. Illinois had three as a team.”

Against Kansas in 19 minutes, Johnson grabbed a game-leading 10 rebounds. His four points included the pivotal putback of his miss forging Arkansas’ 67-65 lead with 47 seconds left.

Argenal recalled Johnson’s perseverance despite playing so little.

“The greatest thing a student-athlete can do is stick with it all year,” Argenal said. “And he is on the biggest stage, making one the biggest plays he could ever make in college basketball. He deserves that.”

Traveling a hard road, but emerging with a UA degree last December plus a putback for the Arkansas ages, Johnson sticks by the head coach sticking by him.

“Just trust in Muss,” Johnson said.


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