In his first game on national television, Anthony Black introduced himself to the country with a monster performance Monday evening.
The freshman phenom did it all — on both ends of the court — in No. 9 Arkansas’ 80-54 blowout win over Louisville in the opening round of the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Playing about 35 minutes in his fourth college game, Black scored 26 points on an incredibly efficient 9-of-11 shooting, plus notched 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. He posted a plus-27, meaning the Razorbacks were actually outscored by 1 point when he wasn’t on the floor.
“My teammates just put a lot of confidence in me and trust in me to have the ball,” Black said of his performance. “I know I got a lot of talent around me, so it’s not any pressure on me to just kind of do everything. We have a lot of good players, so I can kind of just be me, let the game come to me and then just help us win and have fun.”
The 26 points were more than quadruple his season average coming into the game. In fact, he scored just 18 total points over the first three games combined. He blew past that with about 13 minutes left in the game when he converted a 3-point play off a baseline in-bounds play.
Both of Black’s misses came from beyond the arc, but one of them was a contested and rushed attempt to beat the shot clock in the first half. Even with that one, he was 3 of 5 from 3-point range, which is a significant improvement from the 2 of 8 he shot over the opening three games.
“We actually brought Anthony Black off weak-side, double screens which we call Reds,” head coach Eric Musselman said in his postgame interview on the Razorback Sports Network. “We always do that for a shooter. I thought it was going to open up dribble drives for Devo Davis and what it did was it opened up the 3 for Anthony Black.”
Although he also had multiple dunks and layups, plus got to the free throw line a few times (where he was 5 of 5), a couple of other areas of Black’s game were arguably more impressive than his scoring repertoire.
Even though he also had four turnovers, his six assists were a career high, as well, surpassing the five he had in the last game against South Dakota State. Half of them were on 3-pointers by his teammates, meaning he accounted for 41 points against the Cardinals. Making the six assists even more impressive is that Louisville had just four as a team.
“Anthony does so much,” Musselman said. “To think he had two more assists than the entire Louisville team is a testament to his unselfishness for sure.”
Two of those assisted 3-pointers were made by Ricky Council IV, including one in the second half when he fired a strike to him in the corner for a clean look.
“He played his complete game today,” Council said on the Razorback Sports Network. “He scored the ball and he assisted. I know he hit me on a couple of wide open ones. He’ll do that throughout the whole tournament.”
While he was officially credited with only two steals, Black’s impact on defense was much greater than what’s reflected in the box score. He was solid all game, but in particular during a short stretch in the second half when he was tasked with guarding Louisville star guard El Ellis because Davonte Davis picked up his fourth foul with about 7 minutes remaining.
On one possession, Black did an excellent job of closing out on him at the 3-point line and then knocking the ball loose for what turned into a fast break dunk for the Razorbacks. He also poked the ball out a couple of possessions later for another fast break. It was a big enough impact that it caught the attention of the men calling the game on ESPN2.
“After Devo Davis went out with that fourth foul, he’s done a really nice job on El Ellis, forcing him to his weak hand,” color commentator Jay Bilas said.
Dunk Party for Arkansas Basketball
For much of the first half, it seemed as though the Razorbacks were settling on offense. Eight of their first 11 shots were from beyond the arc and one of the other three was a long 2.
Arkansas ended up taking 14 3-pointers and shooting five other jumpers in the first half, going a combined 6 of 19 on those shots — compared to being 6 of 7 on layups and dunks.
The distribution flipped in the second half, with 15 of the Razorbacks’ 25 attempts coming at the rim. That was aided by a wild stretch in which Arkansas blew the game open with a 17-0 run.
Louisville had cut the deficit to five early in the second half and it was still a 10-point game with 10 minutes left when the run started with a layup by Anthony Black and a free throw by Makhel Mitchell.
What followed was five straight dunks in a span of 2 minutes and 11 seconds. Mitchell had three of them, while Ricky Council IV and Black had the others. Most of them came on fast break opportunities off of Louisville turnovers.
“Our defense is stepping it up and turning it into offense,” Council said. “We continue do that we’re going to be hard to stop.”
“It’s really, the last several minutes, been the cumulative effect of the pressure throughout the course of the game,” ESPN color commentator Jay Bilas said. “I think Arkansas has really worn Louisville down late in this ballgame.”
The Cardinals, even with their offensive struggles, had only six turnovers in the first half. After halftime, though, the Razorbacks were relentless on defense and ended up forcing another 16 turnovers in the second half.
“They kept competing, they kept the pressure, they kept the energy and brought it more, and we fazed out,” Louisville head coach Kenny Payne said. “I thought they out-competed us. They wanted it more, but that’s what great teams do. There’s a reason they’re top 10 in the country and they showed it.”
Another Stellar Defensive Performance
The turnovers forced — all 22 of them — tell only part of the story of Arkansas’ defense Monday night.
Louisville has actually held scoreless until after the under-16 timeout in the first half. It didn’t get on the board until JJ Traynor finally made a jumper at the 14:41 mark.
The Cardinal were just 1 of 10 in the game’s first eight minutes or so and also had a stretch later in the first half in which they missed six straight shots.
“That length, that athleticism, they are tough to deal with,” Payne said. “They’re very well coached. Musselman does a great job with ’em. They’re only going to get better. And they’re young.
As a team, Louisville shot 36.4% (16 of 44) from the field and 33.3% (4 of 12) from beyond the arc. That included a subpar performance by star guard El Ellis.
While Anthony Black did guard him for a short stretch, it was junior Davonte Davis who drew that assignment for much of the night. He limited him to 11 points — one under the goal Musselman set — on an inefficient 4 of 16 shooting. Ellis also committed seven turnovers.
“I feel like our defense really, sometimes it starts our runs, because we get out on fast break in transition,” Black said. “When we play defense it brings us a lot of energy. We actually like playing defense and take pride in playing defense. So that leads to a lot of easy run-out dunks which brings us a lot of momentum.”
Twin Towers Produce
Perhaps overshadowed by Anthony Black’s breakout game, the Mitchell twins — Makhi and Makhel — were also very good for Arkansas.
Makhi has started all four games this season and had some good moments, while Makhel didn’t even get off the bench in the opener against North Dakota State and played sparingly in the last two games.
That changed against Louisville, as Makhel made an immediate impact on the floor — blocking a shot less than a minute after checking in — and was rewarded with a season-high 20 minutes. That’s twice as many minutes he played in the first three games combined. Makhi played just under 18 minutes.
“Coach always emphasizes everybody staying ready,” Council said. “Both of the twins played really good. They stepped it up on defense and the offense. I’m really proud of them.”
Not only did he score his first points in an Arkansas basketball uniform, but Makhel was the third-leading scorer with 12 points on 4 of 5 shooting. He was also 4 of 6 from the free throw line, grabbed 6 rebounds, dished 3 assists, notched 2 steals and blocked 2 shots.
Even though he didn’t play as much as usual, Makhi still had 5 points on 2 of 3 shooting, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 blocked shot.
“I thought Makhel and Makhi played good, both of them,” Musselman said. “They give us shot-blocking and interior defense. They give us great size. I thought they did a great job of patrolling the paint defensively.”
Interestingly, the twins had identical stat lines at the under-16 media timeout of the second half: 5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block. From that point on, Musselman went with the hot hand, which happened to be the lesser-used Makhel.
Next Up: No. 10 Creighton
The Maui Invitational opened up with a top-25 showdown between No. 10 Creighton and No. 21 Texas Tech, with the Bluejays coming away with a 76-65 win.
That means Arkansas will face Creighton in its first regular-season top-10 matchup since Scotty Thurman’s late jumper helped the No. 9 Razorbacks knock off No. 5 Kentucky on Super Bowl Sunday in 1995.
All five of the Bluejays’ starters played 30-plus minutes and finished in double figures against the Red Raiders, led by Arthur Kaluma’s 18. South Dakota State transfer Baylor Scheierman notched a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT Tuesday and the game will be televised on ESPN. The winner will advance to the Maui Invitational championship game.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Arkansas freshman Nick Smith Jr., the No. 1 player in the 2022 class according to 247Sports, was held out for the fourth straight game. He has yet to make his collegiate debut.
- The start of the game was delayed six minutes because of technical difficulties with the clock at Lahaina Civic Center.
- After leading the Razorbacks in scoring the first three games of the season, Ricky Council IV had to settle for being the second-leading scorer Monday night. He scored 15 points in a team-high 35 minutes, plus led the team with 4 steals.
- Through four games, Arkansas is holding opponents to 54.0 points per game on 34.8% shooting from the field and 24.2% shooting from beyond the arc. Opponents are also averaging 21.5 turnovers.
Arkansas vs Louisville Postgame Press Conferences
Arkansas vs Louisville Box Score
Arkansas vs Louisville Highlights
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