Ethan Westerman is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has bachelor's degrees in journalism and marketing from the University of Arkansas.
Razorbacks answered every ODU threat
Arkansas' Tramon Marks rises to shoot a three-pointer, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 86-77 win over Old Dominion at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Old Dominion drew within five points of Arkansas on seven occasions in the second half Monday night at Bud Walton Arena.
Each time, the Razorbacks had an immediate answer.
Arkansas responded each time Old Dominion reduced the margin to 5 or less with a basket of its own — 4 two-pointers and 3 three-pointers.
The response from the Razorbacks played a major key in fending off the upset-minded Monarchs, who lost 86-77 despite a valiant effort.
“We just kept encouraging them to keep the pressure on,” ODU coach Jeff Jones said. “We wanted to hang in there and the thought was the longer we can hang in there, maybe they’ll start feeling a little pressure and get tight.”
It did not happen. Jones pointed to one Arkansas player who he thought never felt any sort of pressure.
“El Ellis made sure that that wasn’t the case,” he said. “He was terrific down the stretch.”
Ellis, the graduate transfer from Louisville, scored 15 of his team-high 17 points after halftime and also recorded a game-high 8 assists. Ellis scored or assisted on 36 of the Razorbacks’ 86 points.
Possibly the most demoralizing stretch for the Monarchs came when Ellis created a 4-0 run on his own after Old Dominion pulled within 68-63 with 8:49 remaining. Ellis made two driving layups in a span of 27 seconds.
It began an 11-2 run and created breathing room for the Razorbacks. Old Dominion did not come closer than six points again.
“They put the ball in his hands and put him in some ball-screen situations and he just made plays for his teammates,” Jones said. “He’s a very good player and he’s very experienced. That’s what you would expect from the kind of player he is.”
Arkansas’ resiliency included overcoming a sizzling second half beyond the arc for Old Dominion. The Monarchs refused to go down quietly and hit 8 of 13 three-pointers taken after halftime. During one stretch — which extended from the first half into the second — Old Dominion made 9 of 11 threes.
“We kept getting it to 10, and then it would get back to 5 or 6,” Musselman said. “We didn’t separate. Maybe we’d get up 10 and give up a transition basket or give up a three and then they’d get a little momentum.
“They play hard, they play tough. They’re probably going to be right there looking at a conference championship. That’s why we scheduled them.”
The Monarchs started 0 of 7 from three, but quickly heated up. Musselman gave credit to Old Dominion for making shots but was not pleased with his team’s perimeter defense.
In fact, the fifth-year coach said his team did not earn a grade guarding the three “it was so bad.”
Lucky for him, he had six different players step up and knock down shots from deep, too. Among the responses were three-point makes by Ellis, Trevon Brazile and Tramon Mark.
The Razorbacks were 5 of 10 from deep in the second half and 42.1% for the game. Had they been able to stop the Monarchs from deep, Arkansas’ hot shooting likely would have led to a runaway victory.
Three-point defense is an area where Musselman-coached Arkansas teams have excelled since he arrived, so the struggles Monday caused concern.
“[We are] doing the same drills we were doing when we were No. 1 in the country defending the three,” Musselman said. “[We’ve] got some new guys that have to do a better job. Even Devo, he was a 10 out of 10 the first half guarding their star player [Chaunce Jenkins] — couldn’t have guarded him any better. It was picture perfect.
“And then second half, we just go under two dribble-handoffs and he hits two threes. So why? I don’t know. Then our transition defense matching up to people was abysmal.”
If the defense can catch up to the offense — averaging 88.3 points per game — the Razorbacks appear to be every bit as good as any team under Musselman.
“I think we’re a good offensive team, and we’re a team that has to get better defensively,” Musselman said. “Some of our teams have been really good on defense, and not very good on offense.
"It’s hard to be great on both sides of the ball, but we’re going to get back and try to become much better defensively.”
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