FAYETTEVILLE — For a stretch in the first half, Fordham literally couldn’t do anything against the smothering Arkansas basketball defense.
Using the length that has many fans and experts excited about their potential this season, the Razorbacks held the Rams scoreless for more than eight minutes early in their 74-48 win inside Bud Walton Arena on Friday.
After an Antrell Charlton jumper at the 17:46 mark, Fordham didn’t score again until Khalid Moore made a layup with 9:31 left in the half. During the 8 minutes and 15 seconds between those buckets, the Rams missed nine straight shots — many closely contested — and committed seven turnovers.
Throw in an 0-for-2 trip to the free throw line and Arkansas shut out Fordham on 17 straight possessions, which had Eric Musselman praising his team’s defense in his postgame radio interview with Chuck Barrett and with the media.
“I just told Chuck on the radio I thought that’s as good as we’ve played defensively,” Musselman said. “That’s an Atlantic 10 team. They’re a team that I think averaged close to 80 points last year. … Our length is unique defensively.”
After averaging just 13.2 turnovers last season, Fordham committed only 10 in its season-opening win over Dartmouth on Monday. Against the Razorbacks, it doubled that total in the first half alone.
Eight different Rams had at least one turnover in the first half and six had multiple, but the 20 turnovers Arkansas forced could have been worse. Fordham actually cleaned things up down the stretch and had only one in the final four minutes of the half.
It was also better in the second half, but still committed another 10 turnovers. That gave the Rams 30 for the game, leading to 30 points for the Razorbacks. It was the most Arkansas has forced in a game since also forcing 30 against ULM on Dec. 31, 2004, according to HogStats. The previous high during the Musselman era was 25 against Mississippi State in 2021.
“Defensively, I thought we were phenomenal,” Musselman said. “I don’t use that word often, but forcing 30 turnovers… I thought our defensive activity was phenomenal.”
Nearly one-third of the Rams’ turnovers were committed by Charlton, their primary ball-handler. He had never had more than six turnovers in a game, but had nine Friday night.
The Razorbacks also held Fordham’s best player, Darius Quisenberry, to 10 points on 2 of 8 attempts from the floor. That was well below the fifth-year senior’s career average of 15.5 points and 39.6% shooting.
“For the first time, I feel like everybody was locked as one,” Ricky Council IV said. “We were all having fun playing defense. When the team has fun playing defense, it’s going to be hard to stop.”
Council Takes on New Role
Known more for his explosiveness and high-flying, highlight-reel dunks, Ricky Council IV had to jump into a new role against Fordham.
Despite never really doing it in practice, the Wichita State transfer took over the point guard duties during the game and had a career day. Not only did he score a team-high 15 points, but he also dished a career-high 7 assists to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 37 minutes.
The move was the result of the Rams surprising Arkansas with its defensive scheme at the start of the game, causing a slow start for the Razorbacks. They adjusted nicely with Council running the show, scoring 42 points and shooting 55.2% from the floor in the second half.
“We have not since we’ve been together, even in skeleton 5-on-0, had Ricky Council play any pick-and-roll,” Musselman said. “We felt putting the ball in his hands was going to be important for us to try to figure out a way to score.”
Making the seven assists even more impressive was that Council had just two turnovers despite playing for all but 2 minutes and 36 seconds.
Plus, before Friday, the most assists Council ever had was six against Norfolk State on Dec. 11, 2021, while at Wichita State. The only time other he had more than three was when he notched four against Oklahoma State a few days earlier.
It was a role Musselman admitted he never really envisioned for him, but Council said he’s been hoping for the opportunity.
“I honestly wanted to be in that type of situation more, but like I keep saying, I just want to do what Coach Muss wants me to do,” Council said. “Tonight he wanted me to do that and I did it. I think I did a pretty good job.”
Lineup Change for Arkansas Basketball
The Razorbacks went with the same starting lineup as the opener with one exception: freshman Jordan Walsh got his first official start in place of senior Kamani Johnson.
After fouling out in his debut earlier this week, the former five-star recruit had a much better second game. Despite some early foul trouble, Walsh was Arkansas’ second-leading scorer with 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting, plus he had 4 rebounds and 1 assist.
Both of his misses came from beyond the arc, but he was otherwise “phenomenal” in the dunker spot, Musselman said. However, his eight fouls in 39 minutes is an area of focus moving forward.
“We don’t want to take away from Jordan’s aggressiveness,” Musselman said. “Before he got on campus, I said he was a violent defender because he blows up dribble handoffs. So now we just need for him to focus a little bit on (not fouling), and he will.”
Graham’s Razorback Debut
It wasn’t until the second half of the second game of the season, but Jalen Graham finally made his Arkansas basketball debut Friday night.
Checking in at the 11:29 mark, the Arizona State transfer immediately made his presence known by making a tough layup and committing a foul within the first 32 seconds he was on the floor.
That was the start of what proved to be a very productive stretch. Granted, the game was already in hand, but it was encouraging to see Graham come in and make 5 of 7 shots for 10 points while also grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing 1 assist.
“I thought Jalen did a phenomenal job scoring the basketball,” Musselman said. “He’s really worked hard this week, much harder than he has in prior weeks. I thought it was important for him to get some minutes tonight. I thought he did a good job on the offensive glass and scoring with his back to the basket with spin moves.”
Nick Smith Jr. Out Again
As expected, star freshman Nick Smith Jr. was held out for a second straight game as Arkansas continues to be extra cautious with a knee injury that also kept him out of the opener.
When he met with the media earlier in the week, Musselman said Smith wouldn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, so his absence wasn’t a surprise.
Much like the first game, the projected top-five NBA Draft pick was not dressed out and sat at the end of the bench. However, he was still active and involved in the game, cheering for his teammates and yelling out instruction.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- Despite starting at the center spot, Makhi Mitchell has tied for the team lead with three steals in each of Arkansas’ first two games. His six steals lead the team through two games and are one ahead of both Anthony Black and Davonte Davis. “He’s got elite defensive lateral quickness for a guy his size,” Musselman said. “He’s earned the starting spot, he’s earned the minutes that he’s getting right now.”
- Even after Trevon Brazile grabbed 12 total rebounds in the opener, Musselman was on him about needing to be more active on the offensive glass. It seems as though the message was well received, as half of his eight rebounds Friday night were on the offensive end.
- After not appearing in the opener against North Dakota State, Makhel Mitchell made his Arkansas debut Friday night. The Rhode Island transfer and twin brother of Makhi checked in at the 14:36 mark in the first half and ended up playing 4.5 minutes, finishing with 1 steal and 1 turnover while missing his lone shot.
- True freshmen Derrian Ford and Joseph Pinion got to play in mop-up duty Friday night and notched their first career points. Pinion made a layup with about a minute left and Ford pushed the pace in the closing seconds, making a tough layup just ahead of the final buzzer.
- If the name Khalid Moore sounds familiar, it’s because he had actually played Arkansas before, starting in both of Georgia Tech’s games against the Razorbacks a few years back. He was a freshman when the Yellow Jackets came to Bud Walton Arena in Mike Anderson’s final season, scoring 10 points. In Musselman’s first season, he had 3 points, 8 rebounds and 4 turnovers in a game Arkansas won in overtime. Now at Fordham, Moore had 7 points on 3 of 7 shooting, 2 assists and 1 rebound Friday night.
Arkansas vs Fordham Box Score
Hear from Eric Musselman, Ricky Council IV and Jordan Walsh after the win:
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