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.
Hogs separate enough, beat ODU
Arkansas guard Davonte "Devo" Davis (4) dribbles the ball during a game against Old Dominion on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The No. 14 Arkansas Razorbacks led Old Dominion for 36:01 of Monday night’s game in Walton Arena, but putting away the Monarchs proved to be a challenge.
Old Dominion pulled within six points twice in the final 3:41 before the Razorbacks closed the game by hitting 5 of 8 free throws to win 86-77.
“ODU was a very good team,” said University of Arkansas senior forward Makhi Mitchell, who had 15 points and 10 rebounds. “Respect to them for not backing down and laying down.
“I think they showed a lot of fight. But we just stuck with it.”
The Razorbacks (3-0) built 14-point leads in both halves, but the Monarchs (1-2) drew as close as 49-46 with 14:30 left.
“We didn’t separate,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. “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 [in the Sun Belt]. That’s why we scheduled them.”
Junior guard Chaunce Jenkins scored a game-high 21 points for Old Dominion, which hit 11 of 24 three-pointers, had a 21-9 edge in fast-break points and out-rebounded Arkansas 39-35.
More from WholeHogSports: Additional coverage of Arkansas basketball's third win of the season
“Coming into the game we just said, ‘We don’t have anything to lose,’ and we wanted to be aggressive for 40 minutes,” Monarchs Coach Jeff Jones said. “And that didn’t change through the course of the contest.
“So we just kept encouraging them to keep the pressure on. 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.
“El Ellis made sure that that wasn’t the case. He was terrific down the stretch.”
Ellis, a senior guard, led by the Razorbacks with 17 points and 8 assists without a turnover, and he had 6 points in the final 7:58.
“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 senior guard Davonte “Devo” Davis had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists without a turnover.
“We all know Devo has the flare,” Musselman said. “He’s got some stuff to his game. He’s got a bag that he likes to go into. He’s still doing that. He’s still making some, ‘Oh wow,’ plays that get the crowd on its feet, which we want.
“And he’s doing it now a little bit more deliberately with great maturity with the ball in his hands.”
Arkansas senior guard Khalif Battle had 13 points off the bench.
Sophomore forward Trevon Brazile added 11 points — all in the second half — for the Razorbacks with 4 rebounds and 4 blocked shots.
“At halftime we talked about needing more from him in totality — defending, rebounding, shooting, scoring,” Musselman said. “And I thought TB was very, very good in the second half.”
The Monarchs, who played four guards most of the game, had 12 offensive rebounds and outscored the Razorbacks 16-15 in second-chance points.
“We’d obviously like our opponents to shoot a lower percentage,” Musselman said of Old Dominion’s 43.7% shooting. “But the field goal percentage wasn’t the issue. It was the lack of three-point defense and certainly the lack of physicality.
“I mean, we’re going to be playing against teams that are much bigger, much stronger, much more athletic. And we’re not rebounding with any physicality.
“It’s just not happening other than Mitchell. He’s our one guy that’s rebounded with physicality.
“We have to be way more physical defensive rebounding the basketball.”
Sophomore guard Devin Ceasar scored 18 points off the bench for the Monarchs in 15 minutes. He hit 8 of 12 shots.
Arkansas hit 18 of 29 free throws while Old Dominion was 4 of 5.
“The [lack of] fouling was really good,” Musselman said. “So defending without fouling, A-plus.
“Taking care of the basketball, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team only have four turnovers against a high-steal team. Against a team that plays four guards all the time and has great quickness. So taking care of the ball, A-plus.
“Defensive rebounding, Double-F. Transition defense, Triple-F. Guarding the three, there’s no grade it was so bad. So some good, and some very poor.”
Battle said the Razorbacks will learn from their mistakes.
“We will get better,” Battle said. “We had a slow start. I’ll take full accountability for being one of the main reasons.
“I could’ve done better defensively and rebounding. But we’re going to look at film tomorrow and get better from it.”
The Razorbacks led Old Dominion 37-31 at halftime. In their previous game, an 86-68 victory over Gardner-Webb, they trailed 13-5 before taking a 48-36 halftime lead.
“I know we gave them way too much juice early,” Battle said of the Monarchs. “I mean, it’s the second game in a row that we let teams think that they can play with us.”
Arkansas plays North Carolina-Greensboro on Friday night in Walton Arena.
“We’ve got to do a way better job next game,” Battle said. “We will do a way better job next game of coming out ready to play and punching first.”
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