'He's a big-time player': Battle was in his element against Duke

Arkansas guard Khalif Battle (0) celebrates after making a three-point shot, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 80-75 win over the Duke Blue Devils at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for the photo gallery.

FAYETTEVILLE — As fans began to pour onto Nolan Richardson Court in Bud Walton Arena, Khalif Battle put down a non-counting windmill dunk.

It was emphatic, a fitting exclamation point on a memorable night for Arkansas basketball. It was Battle in his element.

Before the final buzzer, he was essential in a variety of ways in the Razorbacks’ 80-75 upset victory over No. 7 Duke on Wednesday, finishing with a team-high 21 points.

And it was undoubtedly the kind of night Battle likely envisioned when he joined Eric Musselman’s program from Temple in the offseason.

“He and JD [Notae] might be related,” Musselman said with a grin. “They’re both just kind of out there ballin’. Some of his shots, you’re like, ‘Oh no,’ and then they go in and you’re like, ‘Oh, great shot.’”

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For the fourth time in eight games with the Razorbacks, Battle topped 20 points. He was 5 of 13 from the field, 3 of 8 from three-point range and 8 of 11 at the free throw line.

The New Jersey native was at his best in the second half when he scored 15 points. He made a number of momentum shots to help the Razorbacks seize control and lead by as many as 14 points with 8:55 remaining.

His first score after halftime was a three-pointer in front of the Arkansas bench that pushed the Razorbacks’ edge to 51-43. He celebrated the make by shimmying at teammates on the sideline.

Five seconds later, Blue Devils coach Jon Scheyer called a timeout.

At the 11:09 mark, Battle got a layup to drop, pushing the advantage to double digits for the first time in the game. His final bucket of the night was another three, sending a record crowd of 20,344 fans crammed in Bud Walton Arena into a state of delirium.

Again, he shimmied toward the team’s bench.

“He’s a big-time player,” Louisville transfer El Ellis said. “He really can score the ball at will.”

As dynamic as he was as a scorer, Battle received the most praise from Musselman and teammates in the postgame press conference for his effort on the glass and shot creation for others. Battle finished with five rebounds and five assists.

The five rebounds were one shy of matching his season high, and the five assists were a season high. Entering the night, Battle had just five assists in the previous six games.

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His five assists led to 14 points for Arkansas. The Razorbacks were 4 of 4 from three-point range immediately following a Battle pass.

“We know and everybody knows how well he can score the ball and how well he shoots it,” forward Trevon Brazile said. “But when he’s getting five assists and five rebounds and doing all the little stuff, it’s hard to beat us.”

Ellis, who finished with 9 points, 6 assists, 1 block and 0 turnovers, said Battle does not receive enough credit for his ability to pass. Battle was one assist shy of matching a career high set against Maryland Eastern Shore in December 2022.

“I thought his assists were probably the most impressive thing,” Musselman said of Battle. “He drew extra defenders. We ran a couple isolation plays for him and he did a good job of reading the defense and reading the extra help. And his rebounds were really important.”

Musselman added that he wanted the ball in Battle’s hands late in the game because of his ability to create offense and get to the free throw line.

“Well, I think any time you have an explosive scorer…he’s a really confident player and he saw a couple go through,” Musselman said, “and if you look at the nation’s best free throw attempt players and free throw make players, he’s in the top 10 or top 12 in the country. And then he’s got great range on his three-ball.

“You look at KB’s point total as well as his assists, I mean, pretty impressive numbers.”