Takeaways from Arkansas' 86-68 win over Gardner-Webb

By: Scottie Bordelon Scottie Bordelon's Twitter account
Published: Friday, November 10, 2023
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman argues a call with a game official Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, during the second half of play against Gardner-Webb in Bud Walton Arena.
( Andy Shupe)
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman argues a call with a game official Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, during the second half of play against Gardner-Webb in Bud Walton Arena.

FAYETTEVILLE — If you only listen to select stretches of Arkansas coach Eric Musselman’s post-game press conference Friday night, you might be led to believe the 14th-ranked Razorbacks were upset on their home floor.

They were not.

Arkansas beat Gardner-Webb 86-68 at Bud Walton Arena to improve to 2-0. But Musselman brought with him to the interview room a CVS receipt-length list of areas in which the Razorbacks need to improve.

Aspects of Arkansas’ game that Musselman felt were lacking included physicality at the rim, defensive rebounding, depth, on-ball defense, ball movement and shot selection. He also was not pleased with the way the Razorbacks started or closed the game.

Arkansas fell behind 13-5 at the 16:25 mark of the first half, and it did not score in the last 4:29 of the game. The Runnin’ Bulldogs scored the game’s final eight points as well.

“We’ve got to get a lot better than we were tonight,” Musselman said pointedly. “We have a big game [against Old Dominion] on Monday.”

Trevon Brazile said Gardner-Webb came out and punched the Razorbacks in the mouth.

“They played harder than we expected they were going to play,” he said. “That’s on us. We’ve got to come out and perform how we perform, whether it’s in the second half or late first half, that’s how we’ve got to play the whole game.

“We paid for it in the beginning of the half.”

After Monday’s season-opening win over Alcorn State, transfer guard Khalif Battle said Musselman stays on players because he knows their potential. Through two exhibitions and two regular-season games, Musselman has hammered on areas of improvement with his group.

Because he knows how good it can become.

Battle efficient again

It would be difficult to begin a season better than Battle has with the Razorbacks.

Playing a reserve role for the second straight game, the guard finished with 21 points and, again, was efficient doing so. He knocked down 5 of 9 field goal attempts, 3 of 4 three-point looks and 8 of 10 free throws.

He scored 13 first-half points, including 10 in the final 5:05 of the half, and helped pull Arkansas out of a back-and-forth affair. His final bucket in the second half, a right-wing three, put the Razorbacks up 23.

“He’s been phenomenal. Battle is a starter. He’s just not hearing his name called right away,” Musselman said. “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 tonight. Really happy with how he played.”

Battle has now scored at least 20 points and made 3 threes in 7 of his last 8 games played.

“We all know that he can really score the ball. That’s his game,” Louisville transfer El Ellis said. “He scores the ball at a high level and it doesn’t matter if he comes off the bench or not. That’s what he’s going to do.”

According to KenPom data, Battle holds an offensive rating — points scored per 100 possessions — of 143.4 and is 22nd nationally with 10.2 fouls drawn per 40 minutes played. Musselman has to love that.

Ellis on the boards

A big smile appeared on Ellis’ face during his post-game interview.

Asked how much the Razorbacks’ 15 blocked shots — tied for the third most in a game in program history — helps the team, Ellis remarked that he did not turn away any Gardner-Webb shots, but he did finish with six rebounds.

Ellis’ six boards matched a career high from his time at Louisville. And they were six more than he grabbed in the season opener.

“I’m glad he brought that up because it was pointed out to him that we needed our point guards to defensive rebound, because we've had incredible defensive rebounding guards here for the last four years,” Musselman said. “I mentioned the [Jalen] Tate's and Jimmy Whitt's and JD Notae's and Anthony Black. Those guys, not good [but] phenomenal defensive rebounders.

“At Nevada, we had good guard defensive rebounders in Cody Martin and Lindsey Drew. We need El, especially with our lack of physicality sometimes [to defensive rebound].”

In addition to his help on the glass, Ellis had 3 assists and only 1 turnover in 32 minutes. He had three miscues against Alcorn State.

His 3 assists Friday night created 8 points and were spread among 3 teammates — Brazile, Chandler Lawson and Jeremiah Davenport.

Brazile, Mitchell block party

Two of Musselman’s forwards heard his call for an uptick in rim protection after Monday’s opener.

Brazile and Makhi Mitchell teamed up Friday to block nine Gardner-Webb shots, including a three-pointer. Freshman Baye Fall also blocked a pair of shots in 10 minutes.

For Brazile, who finished with 10 points on 4 of 4 from the field and 7 rebounds, was 1 block shy of matching his career high against Illinois as a freshman at Missouri. Mitchell’s four blocks matched his high as a Razorback (4 vs. North Carolina-Greensboro, Texas A&M).

Unofficially, Brazile allowed 4 field goals on 10 shots defended, and Mitchell gave up 2 scores on 7 shots defended.

Brazile, who after the game said he feels 120% healthy, is 74th nationally, according to KenPom, with a block rate of 9.4% through 2 games.

“The games that we’ve had so far, I felt like we didn’t do a good enough job going vertical,” Brazile said. “In practice, we’ve been drilling it all week, just going vertical. We’re getting better at it each game.”


Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.