FAYETTEVILLE — It’s like clockwork: Just as the calendar flips to a new year, Devo Davis shifts into a new gear for Arkansas basketball.
That was the case the Razorbacks’ final non-conference tuneup of the season, as the senior guard played a key role in their 106-90 win over UNC Wilmington inside Bud Walton Arena.
Davis finished with 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals, helping him post a plus-21 in his 35 minutes of action. Even though he’s scored more points, grabbed more rebounds and dished more assists, head coach Eric Musselman described it as his best game of the year.
“This is the time of year that Devo elevates his game for whatever reason,” Musselman said. “He’s got some biological clock that says, ‘Alright, it’s getting close to January 1. I’ve got 8 weeks to play and turn it up.’”
Most of the offensive damage came before the break, when Davis knocked down three 3s in the span of about two minutes on his way to an 11-point half.
It was the first time he’s reached double figures since the Memphis game in the Bahamas, as his scoring had plummeted in recent weeks. In fact, he averaged just 3.7 points over Arkansas’ previous six games.
“I was so happy,” Davis said. “Shoot, (I was) just trying to find a flow of the game, of course. … Seeing those shots go in felt good, but it felt even better us winning the game.”
It is also just the second time in 13 games this season that Davis — who came into the game shooting 23.3% from deep — has made multiple 3s.
Last season, he eventually emerged as Arkansas’ top 3-point threat, shooting 41.5% on 4.1 attempts per game in SEC play. However, before getting hot, Davis shot just 18.5% on 2.5 attempts in non-conference play, so this is nothing new.
“When Devo gets to heating up and hitting, we’re going to be scary,” teammate Keyon Menifield Jr. said. “He’s our leader. That’s who we look for. He’s our playmaker. When it comes down to clutch time, we give him the ball to make the right play.”
He scored only 3 points after halftime, but impacted the game in other ways. He had more rebounds, assists and steals in the second half, with the latter of those stats being perhaps the most important.
Davis’ three steals — all of which came in the second half — were easily a season-high, as it was the first time he’s had multiple steals in 2023-24. It’s a good thing, too, because Musselman had issued him an ultimatum in practice.
“I told him the other night, if you do not have one steal in the first half, you and I are going to have a serious conversation at halftime,” Musselman said. “He didn’t have a steal. The three is what he should have because he’s just too good defensively and he’s got too good of anticipation.”
Despite failing to notch a steal in the first half, the “serious conversation” that presumably happened at halftime seemed to get through to Davis and lead to a vintage defensive showing in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Menifield’s Impact in the Box Score…
In just his third game since being deemed eligible, Keyon Menifield Jr. made his first start with the Arkansas basketball program Saturday and he delivered.
He scored a career-high 32 points on 8 of 14 shooting, which included 3 of 7 from beyond the arc, and 13 of 17 shooting from the charity stripe, plus added 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
It was an incredibly efficient performance, as Menifield became the first Arkansas player to score at least 30 points on fewer than 15 field goal attempts since Mason Jones did it against Texas A&M in 2020 (30 pts. on 13 FGA).
“I didn’t think he hunted his shots tonight, which you really don’t say that about a player that scored 32,” Musselman said. “I thought all of his shots were great, and 17 free throws attempted is a lot.”
A large chunk of Menifield’s scoring came at the free throw line, which he said was by design. Arkansas’ game plan was to drive to the basket and score at least 50% of its points in the paint.
“We had to keep attacking,” Menifield said. “Our coach kept telling us, ‘They don’t have any shot blockers, we have to attack the rim,’ and that’s what we did.”
Arguably the most impressive aspect of Menifield’s performance, though, was how well he distributed the ball. Included in his five assists were three perfectly placed lobs — two to Trevon Brazile and one to Jalen Graham.
The plays themselves were spectacular without any further context, but even more so when you consider the fact Menifield was playing on the scout team just a few weeks ago and already has the timing down necessary for such passes.
“I think he’s just an innate baller, you know?” Musselman said. “You could probably throw him on any team tomorrow and he would figure it out. Sometimes there are guys like that. He’s got unbelievable court awareness.”
…and Out of the Box Score
That impressive stat line — 32 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists — is a tangible way to analyze how Keyon Menifield’s addition has helped the Razorbacks. However, his impact goes beyond those numbers.
Arkansas has desperately needed a point guard to run the show and he seems to have filled that role, bringing energy and high basketball IQ to the floor.
“He just naturally sees plays develop,” Musselman said. “We felt that way when we recruited him. I was kind of amazed as a freshman how he could read the second and third line of the defense. He’s really good in transition, too. He does make us a much different team that plays with much different pace.”
The result has been arguably the Razorbacks’ three best halves of basketball this season.
Over the second half of the Abilene Christian win and entire UNCW win, Arkansas has scored 161 points (107.3 ppg) while shooting 56.0% from the floor.
Musselman said he has also been showing NBA clips before practice to stress the importance of playing faster, plus he expanded their offense by implementing something he picked up on from the San Antonio Spurs when Tony Parker was running the point.
“We added our opportunity break that we did not have in,” Musselman said. “For whatever reason, we did not put that offense in right away. I think that’s helped us as well, just the point guard kicking ahead.”
Khalif Battle Injury
It was a night to forget for Khalif Battle, as he missed all five shots he took — including four in a rough 58-second stretch in the first half.
The Temple transfer missed back-to-back layups before getting rim-stuffed on a fast break dunk attempt. The Razorbacks maintained possession on the latter and he actually got an open look for a corner 3, but missed it.
That last miss may have been because of a sprained ankle he suffered on the dunk attempt. He wasn’t able to run back on defense and eventually limped off the court and went straight to the locker room.
Luckily for Arkansas, it doesn’t appear to be a serious injury, as Battle rejoined the team for warmups before the start of the second half and Musselman said he was available to play if needed. However, he remained on the bench the rest of the game.
It isn’t expected to keep him out for any significant amount of time.
“I think if they told me at halftime he is available as needed, I would expect him to be ready to go on Monday,” Musselman said. “Could be wrong. I’ve been wrong a lot.”
Battle did make his only two free throws, but those were his lone points. Coming into the game, he was the Razorbacks’ second-leading scorer at 15.3 points per game and the top scorer on a per-40 bases (24.9).
Up Next for Arkansas Basketball
Non-conference play is officially in the books for Arkansas basketball. The next time the Razorbacks take the floor, they’ll be facing an SEC team.
Auburn is first up, coming to Bud Walton Arena next Saturday for a 1 p.m. CT tip. After a 101-66 win over Chattanooga on Saturday, the Tigers are 10-2 overall with a matchup against Penn looming Tuesday night. Prior to the Chattanooga game, they were No. 24 in the NET, so it will likely be a Quadrant 1 opportunity for Arkansas.
“Big game obviously on Saturday against Auburn and I would expect this place to be absolutely bedlam,” Eric Musselman said. “I would expect it to be sold out and I would expect incredible energy in the building in Bud Walton next Saturday afternoon. Our guys will be excited to play in that environment.”
The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Saturday marked just the fourth time Arkansas has eclipsed 100 points under Eric Musselman. The 106 points are the second-most during his tenure, trailing only the 142 his team scored against Mississippi Valley State to open the 2020-21 season. The Razorbacks also scored 101 against South Carolina on March 3, 2021, and 100 against Central Arkansas on Dec. 12, 2020.
- With Keyon Menifield Jr. making his first start of the year for Arkansas, it was the seventh different starting five-man combination used by Eric Musselman this season. That is easily the most he’s used through 13 games with the Razorbacks, surpassing five in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
- There were a lot of whistles in Saturday’s game, with 56 combined fouls leading to 77 combined free throws. UNCW went 24 of 34 (70.6%) at the stripe, while Arkansas went 33 of 43 (76.7%). The 33 made free throws were the Razorbacks’ most since making 36 against LSU in 2020.
- One of those fouls was a technical on Trevon Brazile in the game’s final minute, as he was called for hanging on the rim too long and/or pulling up on the rim on his dunk with 34 seconds left. Not only did he foul out on the play, but it was Brazile’s fourth technical foul of the season. He’s also received one flagrant 1 foul.
- Most of the focus was on Keyon Menifield and Davonte Davis for turning in their best performances of the season, but Jalen Graham also contributed a season-high 16 points. However, Musselman was most happy about him going 2 of 2 from the free throw line and grabbing six rebounds. “He’s a really, really special offensive player,” Musselman said. “Tonight I thought he did an admirable job on the glass.”
- The first time Arkansas made a substitution Saturday, it was a full five-man swap — something Musselman rarely does. He said afterward that it was a “psychological” move because of how often UNCW subbed like that.
Arkansas vs UNC Wilmington Highlights
Arkansas vs UNC Wilmington Box Score
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