FAYETTEVILLE — It took three games, but Arkansas basketball fans were finally treated to a vintage Davonte Davis performance Monday night.
The senior from Jacksonville broke out of his scoring slump with 16 points to go along with five rebounds as the No. 14 Razorbacks hung on for an 86-77 win over Old Dominion at Bud Walton Arena.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Davis played 37 minutes and didn’t commit a single turnover. Incredibly, it’s the third straight game in which he had no turnovers — the longest such streak of his career.
In all, he’s played 82 turnover-free minutes of basketball this year, which is tied for the fourth-most in all of Division I, according to Sports Reference. That’s even more impressive when considering Davis is a guard who regularly handles the ball and has a reputation for sometimes trying to do too much.
“It’s phenomenal because the thing with Davonte is we all know Devo has the flare,” head coach Eric 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.”
Sure, the Razorbacks’ level of competition might have something to do with that, but Davis has never taken care of the ball this well, this early. He already had seven turnovers at this point in each of the last two seasons, including back-to-back openers with five.
Musselman said it shows his “comfortability” at the spot in what is his fourth year in the system. Eventually, Davis will turn it over, but if he can continue this trend throughout the season, it’d be a huge asset for Arkansas basketball.
He already provides elite defense, like what was on display against Old Dominion’s Chaunce Jenkins in the first half, and can also score, when needed.
Now a preseason All-SEC selection, Davis got off to a slow start in the latter area. In the Alcorn State and Gardner-Webb games, he scored a combined 9 points on 4-of-13 shooting, including just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc. He surpassed that total in the first half Monday night.
“Devo impacts the game in a lot of ways, he doesn’t just have to score,” teammate Khalif Battle said. “So if you’re talking about scoring, maybe he didn’t score as much, but he can score any time he wants to. He just chooses to be a leader and pick up the dirty work.”
Defensive Struggles vs. Old Dominion
In the immediate aftermath of last Friday’s win over Gardner-Webb, Eric Musselman was so frustrated by the way his team played, you would have never known the Razorbacks had just won by 18.
Even though he took time to point out several positives, it was much the same Monday night after the Old Dominion.
Musselman described the Razorbacks’ transition defense as “abysmal,” leading to the Monarchs scoring 21 fast-break points, 15 of which came before halftime. They also got out-rebounded 39-35 and gave up 12 offensive rebounds that turned into 16 second-chance points. Both of those were areas Musselman emphasized in the couple of days between games.
Making matters worse, Old Dominion shot lights out from beyond the arc. Even with missing its first seven, it still ended up shooting 45.8% (11 of 24) of its 3-pointers — a drastic improvement from the 30.8% it shot in its first two games.
“Defensive rebounding, Double-F,” Musselman said bluntly while grading various aspects of his team. “Transition defense, Triple-F. Guarding the three, there’s no grade it was so bad.”
While he did praise Davonte Davis for how he defended in the first half, Musselman said he slipped some after halftime. The rest of the guards for Arkansas basketball didn’t even get that much.
“We didn’t guard the three or the dribble drive,” Musselman said. “It’s one thing if you’re like, ‘Hey, we shut them down from three, and we gave up some dribble drives.’ They did whatever they wanted.”
Ellis Shines as Scorer and Distributor
This time last year, El Ellis was the best player on arguably the worst team in college basketball. Arkansas got a taste of that at the Maui Invitational when it crushed Louisville 80-54 — a game in which Ellis scored 11 points, but was just 4 of 16 shooting and had seven turnovers to two assists.
Now playing for a top-15 team, Ellis enjoyed a breakout performance against Old Dominion that was about as opposite of that showing in Hawaii as possible. He scored a team-high 17 points on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting while also dishing out 8 assists with no turnovers.
His full arsenal was on display Monday, as he routinely attacked the basket and either finished a tough layup or kicked it out to an open shooter.
“El is tremendously quick,” teammate Makhi Mitchell said. “Shit, by the time I set the screen, he be gone. I try to do my best of rolling even though I don’t want to get in his way when he’s going to the rack. Tremendous credit to him.”
Musselman told reporters that he’s been pleased with how much Ellis asks the coaching staff for feedback on what they expect of him. In fact, earlier in the day, Musselman even gave him a sheet of quotes from Duke women’s basketball coach Kara Lawson about playing point guard for legendary coach Pat Summitt at Tennessee.
It seemed to rub off on him because he was excellent. He is just the fourth Arkansas basketball player since 2010-11 to score at least 15 points while dishing 8 or more assists with no turnovers, joining Jalen Tate (vs. UCA in 2020), Jalen Harris (vs. Texas A&M in 2019) and Daryl Macon (vs. Cal State Bakersfield in 2017).
“He’s the point guard, so it’s important for him to get everybody involved and he did that,” teammate Khalif Battle said. “He’s also more than capable of putting the ball in the basket. I’m proud of his performance.”
Mitchell Turns in ‘Best Game in Everything’
With the Razorbacks getting crushed on the boards, Eric Musselman had no choice but to turn to Makhi Mitchell off the bench and he responded by notching just his third double-double at Arkansas.
Known more for his rebounding and rim protection, Mitchell was also an offensive threat Monday night. He actually led the team in scoring in the first half (11 points) on his way to a 15-point outing, matching his previous high with the Razorbacks. (He also scored 15 against Texas A&M at the SEC Tournament.)
“The one shot he missed was his easiest look,” Musselman said. “It was the cleanest look he had all night and he missed it. Really happy that he went 6 of 7 and could have been 7 of 7. He didn’t force anything.”
It was the second straight solid performance by Mitchell after he hardly played in the opener against Alcorn State. His stats didn’t exactly jump off the page Friday against Gardner-Webb — 5 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 assists — but he was plus-23.
Speaking to the media afterward, Mitchell almost shrugged off his recent play.
“Just playing my minutes, embracing my role and just doing my job,” Mitchell said.
Musselman didn’t hold back his praise, though. In his eyes, his impact on Monday’s game extended far beyond the box score.
“This was Khi’s best game in everything,” Musselman said. “This was his best game body language. This was his best game in timeouts and huddles. This was his best game with his teammates. This was his best game with the coaching staff, and then he played really well, too. Hopefully he can keep doing that. I thought from a maturity standpoint and really doing what we needed and doing it with really positive passion, he was really good tonight.”
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks’ final tuneup before heading to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis during the week of Thanksgiving is Friday night against UNC Greensboro.
It’s the second straight year Arkansas has hosted Spartans. Last season, Arkansas won 65-58 in a game many remember as the night Trevon Brazile tore his ACL.
This year, UNC Greensboro is 1-0 after opening its season with a 94-78 win over North Carolina A&T last Friday. It will play Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday before heading to Fayetteville.
“They’ve got some guys back from last year that really, really hurt us,” Musselman said. “We need to play our best game of the season on Friday. That’s for sure.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus and ESPN-Plus.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- As a team, the Razorbacks put together another excellent shooting night, going 8 of 19 (42.1%) from beyond the arc. Through three games, they’re knocking down 3-pointers at a 40.3% rate.
- After missing the Gardner-Webb game with an undisclosed illness, freshman guard Layden Blocker was back with the team and even got to play a couple of minutes. He missed both of his shot attempts, with one of them being a corner 3 that hit the side of the backboard.
- Arkansas committed only four turnovers the entire game, its lowest total of the Musselman era. The last time it had that few turnovers was Jan. 29, 2019, against Georgia.
- Trevon Brazile notched another four blocks after racking up five against Gardner-Webb. That means he has nine blocked shots in his last 53 minutes of action. He had only 11 blocks in 243 minutes last season before getting injured.
Arkansas vs Old Dominion Highlights
Arkansas vs Old Dominion Box Score
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