FAYETTEVILLE — Trevon Brazile’s final stat line in the first Arkansas basketball exhibition doesn’t exactly jump off the page.
That didn’t keep the redshirt sophomore from jumping out of the gym while skying for an offensive rebound in the second half of the Razorbacks’ dominant 92-39 win over Division II UT Tyler on Friday.
After snagging a missed 3 by Jeremiah Davenport, Brazile immediately went up and dunked over a defender, bringing the crowd of 7,046 inside Bud Walton Arena to its feet. It was a glimpse of the athleticism he showcased before tearing his ACL last December and something he was looking to do all night in his return to action.
“Man, I was trying to get a dunk in the first half, but when I didn’t get one, some of the guys were getting me some stuff in the locker room at halftime,” Brazile said. “I had to go out there and get one.”
That was one of only two buckets for Brazile, who finished with 4 points on 2 of 7 shooting and 3 rebounds in 19 minutes against the Patriots.
The most important of those statistics is the last one, as he’s just 10 months removed from surgery and had been limited in his 5-on-5 action in practice. The plan was for Brazile to play only about 4-6 minutes each half, but he wanted to stay on the floor, which Musselman pointed to as a good sign.
“I think he knew he needed the reps,” Musselman said. “We certainly felt like he needed the reps. We just don’t go live that much. We practice a little bit more like a football team where we’re in stations and drill work.”
Included among his misses were four from beyond the arc, where he shot 37.9% in a small sample size last season, but that’s not too concerning because he’s still working on getting his timing back while also continuing to improve his conditioning.
“It’s obviously different practicing and scrimmaging against our team, but to actually get out there and play somebody else, it felt really good,” Brazile said. “I felt great. … I’ve had a lot of time to get myself back to 100%, so I’ve prepared myself physically and mentally for the season.”
Here are a few other takeaways from the Arkansas vs UT Tyler exhibition game Friday night…
Ellis Avoids Louisville Repeat
Louisville’s struggles last season are well-documented. Led by first-year head coach Kenny Payne, the Cardinals managed just four wins. A double-digit loss to Lenoir-Rhyne — and then just a seven-point win over Chaminade — in the preseason was the first sign of what was to come.
El Ellis is very familiar with that because he was arguably Louisville’s best player last year. Now with the Razorbacks for his final collegiate season, he made sure he would avoid a similar fate again in 2023.
Starting the exhibition at point guard, Ellis provided the Razorbacks with an early scoring punch by knocking down his first three shots in the game’s opening four minutes while his teammates went just 1 of 5 over that span.
He scored only two more points the rest of the night, finishing with 9 points on 4 of 6 shooting, but he was still “phenomenal” playing the way Musselman wants during his 16 minutes on the floor. That included dishing a game-high four assists with no turnovers.
“I think that El is excited to play with some surrounding pieces so that he can show people his willingness to be a passer and ball distributor and play like a true point guard,” Musselman said. “I think we’ve seen that since the day that he stepped on campus.”
Between the Red-White game and Friday’s exhibition, Ellis has 10 assists with only one turnover in 32 minutes. Obviously it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but that’s a drastic improvement from last season, when he was one of the most turnover-prone players in the country with 3.8 per game.
“It’s come very natural because I’ve got really good players around me,” Ellis said about his role change. “They make my job easy. I’ve just got to give them the ball when they’re open.”
Defense Shuts Down UT Tyler
The level of competition certainly can’t be ignored, as UT Tyler went just 9-17 as a Division II program in 2022-23, but Arkansas thoroughly shut down the Patriots on Friday.
UT Tyler’s 39 points were the fewest the Razorbacks have ever allowed in an exhibition game, according to HogStats, edging the 41 they gave up to Delta State in 2015.
As a team, the Patriots shot 24.5% from the field and made only 1 of 20 attempts from beyond the arc while also committing 20 turnovers. That latter number includes a pair of shot clock violations and one 10-second violation.
The Razorbacks did that without their typical scouting report from Musselman, too. He said they only scouted UT Tyler’s players, not their scheme.
“We didn’t walk through any plays because we didn’t know what plays they were going to run, quite frankly,” Musselman said. “The whole game plan was no threes, so to look at the stat sheet to see they went 1 of 20, great job. The one they hit we will look at and see why they hit it.”
That said, it wasn’t all perfect. There was a moment in the second half when Arkansas got foul-happy. It was whistled four times in the span of 68 seconds, leading Musselman to tell reporters that his team must get better about using its hands when in the bonus.
“We want to be a really ultra aggressive team,” Musselman said. “We want to be a team that has physicality and I thought we did that. I thought our guards were really physical. I think inside interior, we have to probably be a lot more physical than we showed tonight at the 4 and 5 spot.”
“Streaky Hot” 3-Point Shooting
Shooting 50% from long range like they did in the Red-White game was never going to be sustainable for the Razorbacks, but they came back down to Earth on Friday.
After making 14 of 28 attempts in a 32-minute intrasquad scrimmage, they shot just 32.4% (11 of 34) against UT Tyler. It started out much worse than that and likely would have finished that way had it not been for some quick bursts from their top shooters.
“We have some guys that can shoot and some explosiveness and some streakiness, as well,” Musselman said. “We have some guys that we’re going to have to tinker with on a nightly basis to try to see who we can get a favorable matchup to where they can get some clean looks from 3, those guys in particular.”
The Razorbacks opened the game just 2 of 11 from deep before Jeremiah Davenport knocked down three straight in the span of about 2.5 minutes. The Cincinnati transfer missed his first two attempts before heating up midway through the first half.
“The guys look for him when he’s in,” Musselman said. “He’s a guy that’s going to take a high volume of shots in his minutes. We need to try to find him in transition. We need to try to run some plays for him to come off screening actions. He’s got incredible confidence shooting the ball and he’s got really deep range.”
Even with those makes, Arkansas was still just 5 of 19 early in the second half. That’s when Joseph Pinion heated up. After missing three quick attempts early in the game, the sophomore made three in about two minutes.
Late in the game, it was Khalif Battle who supplied the 3-point shooting, as he knocked down a pair — the only two makes in Arkansas’ final 11 attempts from deep. That was part of a team-high 14 points for the Temple transfer.
“I thought, offensively, he really played his minutes well,” Musselman said. “He’s got a quick release, he’s got great confidence. You can isolate him a little bit, which we did a couple times.”
It wasn’t the best shooting performance for Arkansas and Musselman indicated he’d like to see his team attack the basket a little more.
“We were really aggressive shooting the ball from 3,” Musselman said. “I mean, 34 threes attempted, when we probably could have gotten to the foul line at a much higher clip. … We’re going to have to mix it up a little bit more. I thought we were a little aggressive from beyond the arc.”
Jalen Graham Injury Update
One key player the Razorbacks were without Friday night was Jalen Graham, who didn’t dress out after experiencing back spasms.
Musselman said he was sidelined for about a week, returned for one practice and then his back locked back up on him. It’s unclear when he’ll be available again.
“I have no idea what it will look like,” Musselman said about Graham’s timeline to return. “You would think in a week that he would be able to be in uniform next week. That’s got to be the hope and the thought.”
Looking Ahead to Purdue
Arkansas could certainly use all available players its next time out because it welcomes No. 3 Purdue to Bud Walton Arena for a charity exhibition next Saturday.
Led by National Player of the Year Zach Edey, the Boilermakers went 29-6 and won both the Big Ten regular-season and conference titles last season.
“What a great challenge, what a great atmosphere it’s going to be next Saturday against the No. 3 team in the country coming in here with all those returners and the Big Ten champs with their whole roster back,” Musselman said. “It’s going to be an incredible challenge this early in the year.”
Tip off is scheduled for 3 p.m. and it’ll be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.
Arkansas vs UT Tyler Highlights
Postgame Interviews — Arkansas vs UT Tyler
Box Score — Arkansas vs UT Tyler
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