Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Slow start doesn't faze No. 14 Razorbacks
Arkansas guard Khalif Battle (0) reaches to score Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, over Gardner-Webb guard Lucas Stieber (13) during the second half of play in Bud Walton Arena.
FAYETTEVILLE — Gardner-Webb’s basketball team had some fun in Walton Arena on Friday night.
But it was short-lived.
The No. 14 Arkansas Razorbacks came back to beat the Runnin’ Bulldogs 86-68 after Gardner-Webb jumped out to a 13-5 lead.
“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” said University of Arkansas sophomore forward Trevon Brazile, who had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. “They played harder than we expected they were going to play.
“That’s on us. We’ve got to come out and perform how we performed in the second half or late in the first half. That’s how we’ve got to play the whole game.
“We paid for it in the beginning of the half.”
Gardner-Webb (1-1) started 5 of 7 from the field, including four layups.
“I feel like we’ve got to start the game way better,” Arkansas senior guard El Ellis said. “They came out ready to play and we weren’t ready.
“I feel like as the game went on, we picked it up. We started fighting back. But we’ve got to start the game off way better than that.”
Senior guard Khalif Battle led Arkansas with 21 points. He hit 5 of 9 shots, including 3 of 4 three-pointers, and 8 of 10 free throws.
Battle also scored a team-high 21 points in the Razorbacks’ 93-59 season-opening victory over Alcorn State on Monday night.
“Battle is a starter,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “He’s just not hearing his name called right away.
“He’s been our most efficient offensive player. He stretches the floor, he can play one-on-one, he can draw free throws. He’s a good foul shooter.
“He did a decent job on the defensive backboards [with four rebounds] tonight. Really happy with how he played.”
Arkansas had 15 blocked shots that tied for the third-most ever by the Razorbacks.
The Arkansas record for blocks is 18 in the Razorbacks’ 104-93 victory over Missouri during the 1995-96 season.
The Razorbacks had 16 blocks in a 103-96 overtime victory at Texas in the 1989-90 season and 15 in a 101-91 victory over South Alabama in the 1990-91 season.
Along with Brazile’s 5 blocks, Makhi Mitchell had 4, Baye Fall had 2 and Jalen Graham, Tramon Mark, Joseph Pinion and Jeremiah Davenport 1 each.
It was the most blocks by a Musselman-coached college team in nine seasons at Nevada and Arkansas.
“That was a big impact,” Ellis said of the blocks. “Because, us guards, we pressure the ball so much that we’re going to get beat sometimes. So to have guys back there that’s going to protect the rim for us, that’s great.”
Gardner-Webb Coach Tim Craft said the Runnn’ Bulldogs did a good job taking care of the ball limiting their turnovers to 10, but needed better shot selection as they finished 25 of 72 (34.7%) from the field.
“I thought what was really important for us is we had to be really patient in the paint,” Craft said. “It might not be the first drive, but we need to get a second drive, a third drive because of their length and athleticism.
“If you shoot the first one that looks open, it’s probably going to get blocked or you’re going to miss it because of their length and size, and that was the deal.
“We didn’t do that well. They blocked  shots and it led to us shooting 35%. That’s not good enough to win on the road.”
After the game had 7 lead changes and 6 ties, the Razorbacks took control when they outscored the Runnin’ Bulldogs 12-3 the last 2:37 of the first half — including 7 points by Battle — to take a 48-36 halftime lead.
Gardner-Webb shot of 1 of 6 and had a turnover on its last seven possessions of the half.
Brazile started Arkansas’ run with a three-pointer.
Battle hit a jumper and Ellis made a steal and layup to give the Razorbacks a 43-33 lead.
After a three-pointer by Julien Soumaoro, Battle closed the half by hitting two free throws and a three-pointer.
“I thought the first nine minutes we didn’t play the way we needed to play,” Musselman said. “And I thought Gardner-Webb played really hard and got to loose balls and scrapped around.
“So credit to that group of guys for getting it to click at a time we needed it, going into halftime especially.”
A 15-3 run, with junior guard Tramon Mark scoring seven points, pushed Arkansas’ lead to 65-42 with 13:15 left.
The Razorbacks led by as many 26 points at 86-60.
Mark scored 14 points and Ellis had 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
Sophomore forward Caleb Robinson led Gardner-Webb with 18 points and seven rebounds.
The Razorbacks held Runnin’ Bulldogs guard DQ Nicholas, a sophomore guard and preseason All-Big South first-team pick, to 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting.
“We did a great job on their star player,” Musselman said. “The whole week we really focused on Nicholas.
“So I thought that the guys assigned to him, and the other four on the floor, did a great job on their all-league player.”
Among the players on Nicholas were senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis, Ellis and Mark.
“Really just pressure and make him uncomfortable,” Ellis said of shutting down Nicholas. “Don’t give him any easy looks.
“Every time he comes off a ball screen, keep him in coverage. Every time he comes off a pin down, we’re chasing him. Trying to be physical with him. That’s really what we do with every star on each team.”
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