FAYETTEVILLE — Seemingly overnight, Davonte Davis has become one of the best 3-point shooters for Arkansas basketball.
The junior knocked down another 3 of 5 from beyond the arc in a 69-57 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, helping the No. 25 Razorbacks snap their four-game skid.
Those shots were part of a 16-point effort by Davis, who has now made 8 of 18 (44.4%) three-point attempts over the last four games. It’s a dramatic improvement from the 17.9% he shot in Arkansas’ first 14 games, which head coach Eric Musselman attributed to his “work ethic.”
“I got here at 7:06 (a.m.) and he was either finishing or close to finishing shooting,” Musselman said. “His work ethic has been extremely consistent on a daily basis on his own and I think he’s really focused. He’s a guy that just the steady approach of getting his work in on his own has been really impressive.”
He hasn’t always been as bad as what he was shooting before this hot stretch, but Davis has never been a sharp-shooter. Through the Auburn game on Jan. 7, he was a career 23.0% shooter from deep.
However, there is hope that he’s turned a corner and can sustain his hot streak the rest of the season.
“I feel good, just staying in the gym,” Davis said. “As long as I stay in the gym, I’ll feel more confident every single game and I’ll continue to shoot at a high clip.”
During his current four-game tear, Davis is averaging 16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 37.5 minutes. Although he has only four total steals in those games, his biggest impact has been on the defensive side of the ball.
That was the case again Saturday, as he drew the assignment of defending Ole Miss leading scorer Matthew Murrell. The 6-foot-4 junior came in averaging 15.6 points, but was held to just 3 points on 1 of 5 shooting by Davis.
Murrell left the game early with an injury, but even if he hadn’t gotten hurt, Davis said he was confident he would have kept him in single digits.
“Our game plan was Devo Davis,” teammate Jordan Walsh said. “He locked him up. It was his job. We weren’t switching. We were like, ‘Hey Vo, don’t give him nothing.’ And Vo was like, ‘Alright, bet.’ And that’s what he did.”
While the 3-point shooting has been a new development, that kind of lock-down defense has been a staple of Davis’ game throughout his career. That’s been especially true this year, as he’d been tasked with defending the opposing team’s best player almost every night — and done so with great success.
“It’s like every single night he’s taking a star player and not doing a good job, but doing a phenomenal job from a defensive standpoint,” Musselman said. “I cannot talk enough about his defense.”
“Even these games where we haven’t won, whether it’s (Missouri’s D’Moi) Hodge, whether it’s (Brandon) Miller with Alabama, whether it’s (Adam) Miller with LSU… I can go on and on at how he has defended at an incredible elite level.”
Arkansas Avoids Foul Trouble
There have been several issues for Arkansas during its losing streak, but one of the biggest in the last few games has been foul trouble and sending opponents to the charity stripe.
Alabama, Vanderbilt and Missouri combined to take 112 free throws, as the Razorbacks were whistled for nearly 29 fouls per game. With 30 against the Commodores and 33 against the Tigers, they became just the second team in Division I with at least 30 in back-to-back games.
Eric Musselman never came out and directly said it, but his displeasure with some of the calls was evident — and the SEC admitting it botched a critical call down the stretch against Missouri likely didn’t help.
While his coach was trying to avoid a fine, Davonte Davis was a bit more blunt after the Ole Miss win, in which the Razorbacks were called for only 16 fouls and the Rebels attempted just 13 free throws.
The victim of the aforementioned botched call, Davis told reporters that “the refs (are) not always on our side.”
“As long as we make sure we put a huge emphasis on defense, fouling shouldn’t be an issue, because we’ve got guys like Jordan Walsh, Anthony Black who can play multiple positions and guard multiple positions,” Davis said. “That’s just a huge advantage on our end, and if we continue — and hopefully the refs will help us out a little bit, since they hurt us sometimes — we’ll be fine.”
Musselman said the team did extra drills in the last two days of practice, holding towels over their heads to focus on sliding and having active hands in an effort to stay out of foul trouble and get deflections.
That said, he didn’t think that was the difference in the lack of fouls called on Arkansas in Saturday’s game.
“We played the same defense we have for four years,” Musselman said. “We didn’t change. … Philosophically I’d love to come in and say, ‘Yeah, we as coaches got together and changed.’ I don’t know what happened the last couple of games. It’s the same defense.”
Perhaps no one benefited from that as much as freshman Jordan Walsh. An aggressive defender by nature, he has battled foul trouble throughout the season.
That came to a head against Missouri, as he fouled out in just 13 minutes of action. Just three days later, Walsh didn’t come off the floor and didn’t commit a foul until 32 minutes in. That proved to be his only foul in 40 minutes.
“The foul thing has gotten out of hand,” Walsh said with a smile. “They started doing an over-under on my fouls, like within the staff. It’s actually funny. … But it feels good to be able to turn that corner and feel like you’re really affecting the team in a positive way and affecting winning in a positive way. I’m just glad I was able to do it and I hope I can keep doing it.”
Joseph Pinion Rains 3s
As well as Jordan Walsh played in the first 40-minute game of his career and even with Anthony Black scoring a game-high 17 points as part of an all-around performance, it was another member of that heralded freshman class that may most excite many Arkansas basketball fans.
Joseph Pinion came off the bench and knocked down 3 of 6 shots from beyond the arc as he matched a career high with 13 points.
His most important contribution came late in the first half when he drilled back-to-back 3s from the corner to help Arkansas take a 32-29 lead into the break.
“I thought (Pinion) coming in and catching and shooting it kind of flipped the game a little bit,” Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis said.
The other time Pinion scored 13 points was in the Razorbacks’ other SEC win, when they beat Missouri inside Bud Walton Arena on Jan. 4. In their five conference losses, he has just six total points.
“I feel like now we’re seeing a pattern here where Joseph, whenever he’s having a big game, then the team’s better, the morale’s up and we’re winning,” Walsh said. “So I feel like he’s also a big part of the game, even though people may not think that just based off the other three games he played.”
One thing keeping Pinion off the court has been his defense, but Musselman said he was “really solid” against the Rebels. He specifically praised him for going after loose balls, grabbing 5 rebounds and even coming up with a steal and a block.
“With him, it is going to be matchups,” Musselman said. “We felt there was a couple good matchups for him defensively. Certainly, from an offensive standpoint there is no doubt Joseph can help us and stretch the floor out. I give him a lot of credit for his confidence shooting the ball. When he comes in games, he is locked and loaded and shot ready.”
Arkansas Basketball Injury Updates
After being away from the team for a few weeks to spend time with a specialist in Los Angeles, star freshman Nick Smith Jr. returned to Fayetteville this week and was on the bench Saturday afternoon.
He posted a photo on Instagram that seemed to indicate he was back at practice, but he is still out indefinitely for “right knee management.” Musselman previously said he’d be out through at least the end of January.
“He is not practicing with the basketball team right now,” Musselman said after the Ole Miss win. “There’s really no update. He’s back in town. He’s rehabbing with the trainer and under our doctors. He’s still in the same situation.”
The Razorbacks also lost another player to injury in the second half when big man Makhel Mitchell limped off the court with 10:02 remaining. He walked back to the locker room and eventually reemerged with a boot on his right foot.
Musselman said he would get an X-ray and be evaluated, but as of his postgame interview, he was still waiting on the medical report.
It was an unfortunate injury because Mitchell was in the midst of one of his better games with the Razorbacks. After not playing at all against Missouri, he played 21 minutes off the bench Saturday and contributed 4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
Much like how the Tigers’ personnel dictated him not playing Wednesday, Musselman said he knew Mitchell would have a larger role against the Rebels because they consistently use four four bigs who can eat up space and are good around the rim.
“He played great basketball,” Musselman said. “I thought he gave us a real defensive presence with the two blocks, as well as the two steals. … I thought Makhel did a phenomenal job because they would platoon those four bigs and he guarded four different guys in the second half, depending on who they had in the game.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks will be back in Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday for a rematch with LSU, which beat them 60-57 down in Baton Rouge late last month.
That win improved the Tigers to 12-1, but they haven’t won since. They’ve now lost six straight after a 77-56 loss to No. 9 Tennessee on Saturday.
It’s worth noting that LSU point guard Justice Hill has missed the last two games because of “personal reasons.” The Little Rock native began his career with the Razorbacks, spending a semester with the team before transferring.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- For the fourth straight game, Eric Musselman shuffled his starting lineup. This time, he removed Makhi Mitchell from the first five — marking the first time he’s come off the bench this year — and re-inserted Jordan Walsh. Kamani Johnson made his second straight start and third of the season.
- After a tight first half, Arkansas managed to create some separation after halftime, leading by as many as 21 points and holding a double-digit lead for nearly 15 minutes. According to Jordan Walsh, the key to that was “relentless” defense, as the Razorbacks held Ole Miss to just 37.9% shooting in the second half. “That’s our identity and we’re trying to get back to that now, because we’ve kind of lost ourselves a little bit in these last couple of weeks,” Walsh said. “This is who we are. We’re just trying to get back to it.”
- Freshman Anthony Black turned in one of his more complete games of the year, scoring a game-high 17 points with a career-high 8 assists and 5 steals — the last of which was his most impressive stat to Musselman. He also had only two turnovers in 37 minutes. “He’s great at seeing the game, making reads, attacking the rim,” Walsh said. “He’s really locked in with Muss, too, so he always knows what Muss is thinking. He’s always just controlling the pace of the game, so we need him out there every second we can.”
- Another key statistic for Arkansas was the fact it had only 11 turnovers compared to the 21 it committed at Missouri on Wednesday. That’s an improvement on offense, but it also impacted how the Razorbacks looked on the opposite end of the floor. “Some of the defensive struggles of late have really not been defensive struggles,” Musselman said. “It has been our offense has let us down with taking care of the ball. Then it looks like we’re not defending when in reality you could have nine guys out there defensively, but when you have live-ball turnovers there’s not much you can do.”
- When Ole Miss forward Jayveous McKinnis went 0 of 2 on a trip to the free throw line with 6:39 remaining, the Bud Walton Arena student section erupted because it triggered a promotion that gave them free 9-piece chicken fries from Burger King.
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Highlights
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Postgame Interviews
Arkansas vs Ole Miss Box Score
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