FAYETTEVILLE — Just three games into the season and on a team full of high-flyers, Trevon Brazile might have thrown down the dunk of the year for Arkansas basketball, if not the entire country, on Wednesday night.
When the big man drove by his original defender, South Dakota State’s Broden Lien made the ill-advised decision to slide over and provide help-side defense in front of the basket. Brazile elevated and slammed the ball home over the redshirt freshman’s futile block attempt to put a bow on the No. 9 Razorbacks’ 71-56 win over the Jackrabbits.
Listed at 6-foot-10, the Missouri transfer has a nearly 7-foot-3 wingspan and is armed with a 42.5-inch vertical, making plays like that one a borderline frighteningly regular occurrence for opponents. He had an incredible one-handed tip-slam in Europe and even in the win over Fordham, Brazile got up so high that he scraped his elbow on the rim while finishing an alley-oop dunk.
“We see that all the time,” teammate Davonte Davis said. “He does it in practice. If you do it in practice, it’s going to show in the game. It shows who he really is and his potential. He can do things like that all the time, so as the season continues to go on, he will continue to make plays like that.”
However, the poster-worthy dunk on Lien’s head might have been Brazile’s best. Freshman Anthony Black seemed to be at a loss of words when asked about it after the game, ultimately saying of the sophomore, “He’s a monster.”
The Razorbacks weren’t the only ones talking about the play. It wasn’t long after the game that head coach Eric Musselman found out that it was the talk of the basketball world, a fact he learned from his 12-year-old daughter.
“The dunk has already gone viral,” Musselman said. “I do know that because Mariah texted me. … She was very impressed with the dunk. She’s the one who told me it went viral.”
Sure enough, the video shared by the official Arkansas basketball Twitter account soared past 1 million views within the first two hours it was up. Even “The King” himself, LeBron James, shared the video on his Instagram story.
The only negative aspect of the play was Kamani Johnson receiving a technical foul for taunting, as he tapped his head and pointed at Lien.
“I did tell the team in the locker room, like, ‘Let’s not give two points right back by getting a technical,’” Musselman said. “Let’s act like we’ve seen that play — not that we ever have. But let’s act like we have.”
The dunk capped yet another double-double for Brazile, as he finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Through three games, he’s averaging 14 points on 50% shooting — including 4 of 9 (44.4%) from beyond the arc — and 10 rebounds.
Brazile has also been the Razorbacks’ best free throw shooter, knocking down 80% (8 of 10) of his attempts, and has a team-high 4 blocked shots. However, he did commit four of Arkansas’ 20 turnovers Wednesday night, which was a product of how he was being used compared to the first two games, when he had a combined four turnovers.
“We want to try to isolate Trevon Brazile and we want him to play some small forward,” Musselman said. “He has not done that, so you see him out on the floor tonight handling the ball much more than in Games 1 and 2. He had four turnovers, so now he’s got to grow from that when he’s playing 25 feet from the bucket and we’re trying to get him in positions to beat people off the bounce.”
The dunk, unsurprisingly, landed at No. 1 in on SportsCenter’s Top 10 and many analysts seem to consider it the frontrunner for unofficial dunk of the year across the sport at large. Indeed, when FS1’s Shannon Sharpe was asked where he would rank the throwdown on a scale of 1 to 10, he blurted out “Man, it’s a 50. I don’t know what [the defender] was thinking. Look how far he jacks this ball back! It was almost like DeAndre Jordan on Brandon Knight.“
Timeout Proves to be Turning Point
Now in his fourth season at the helm of Arkansas basketball, Eric Musselman has a reputation for not being fond of using his timeouts. In fact, it wasn’t until near the end of the first half of Game 3 that he called his first one of the season.
Musselman was clearly angry at the lack of hustle by Jalen Graham on back-to-back possessions, which led to some easy buckets for South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits actually made three shots — two layups and a dunk — in a little over a minute to cut the Razorbacks’ double-digit lead to four, with the last one prompting the timeout at the 2:28 mark.
It didn’t appear to be a pleasant huddle, as Musselman was visibly angry and very animated with his team.
“I won’t repeat what we talked about,” Musselman said afterward. “I thought we had to play with much more defensive tenaciousness, be more disruptive. … We did not end half properly against Fordham. We talked about that in that huddle.”
Based on what unfolded next, the message was well-received by the team. With the starters back in the game, Arkansas went on a 10-0 run before South Dakota State made a layup in the final 10 seconds of the half.
That play continued after halftime, as the Jackrabbits opened the second half by making 1 of 2 free throws before an 11-0 run by the Razorbacks. Another 10-0 run in the middle of the second half helped Arkansas extend its lead out to 27 before Musselman emptied his bench.
“If we get stops and things like that, we can make runs,” Davis said. “So he called timeout and chewed us out a little bit about playing defense harder, and you see we made that run and everything else took care of itself.”
Walsh’s Night Cut Short by Injury
A major key to that run after the timeout was Jordan Walsh. In less than a two-minute span, he knocked down a 3-pointer, had two steals, blocked a shot and dished an assist that led to a 3-point play.
“Jordan’s energy after that timeout kind of stopped the run and gave us one of our own,” Black said. “That was big for us.”
That stretch was part of an overall solid game by the freshman, who reminded everyone why he was a five-star recruit by scoring 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting — including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc — and notching 3 steals to go along with 1 rebound, 1 assist and 1 blocked shot in just 16 minutes of action. Arkansas was plus-21 during his time on the floor, as well.
“Not many guys can do what he can do,” Davis said. “He can shoot the ball, slash, he can dribble-drive off the closeout off the three-point line and things like that, so he puts a lot of pressure on the defense. I think that Jordan does a lot of things that you can’t teach.”
Foul trouble limited Walsh’s minutes the first two games, but he kept that in check against South Dakota State, committing just one. Instead, his playing time was cut short by an ankle injury suffered early in the second half.
Walsh had to be helped off the court with 15:10 remaining. He wasn’t putting any weight on his left leg as he went to the locker room. Luckily for Arkansas, he reemerged about 10 minutes later and was walking under his own power.
Rather than go back in the game, Walsh spent some time on a stationary bike in the tunnel leading to the locker room. Musselman didn’t say much about the injury after the game other than “there’s concern right now” and that he might have played 30 minutes if he stayed healthy.
“I thought he played really well tonight,” Musselman said. “Jordan knocking down two three-balls changes a lot of stuff for us offensively. I thought he was really good being aggressive. His shot selection was really good. He had three steals in just 15 minutes.“
Active Night for Jalen Graham
After making the most of his minutes late in a blowout win over Fordham, Jalen Graham was rewarded with some first-half action Wednesday night.
The Arizona State transfer was looking to score every time he touched the ball early on, but he made just 1 of 4 shots and missed both of his free throws. He did grab 6 rebounds in about 8 minutes of work, but also turned the ball over twice and it was his loafing back down the court on defense that led to Musselman angrily calling the aforementioned timeout.
It was just his second appearance in an Arkansas basketball uniform, as he didn’t play at all in the opener. Including his time in the second half of the Fordham game, Graham has 12 points on 6 of 11 shooting, 10 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 1 assist in about 19 minutes.
Throw in the four fouls he’s committed and a set of free throws, Graham has recorded a statistical unit of some sort, on average, every 38.9 seconds he’s been on the floor.
Smothering Defense Continues
It wasn’t quite the same level as it was against Fordham, but Arkansas continued to play excellent defense Wednesday night.
South Dakota State had six turnovers on its first nine possessions and was taking particularly tough shots early on. It did settle in some, but still finished with 20 turnovers and scored only 56 points on 32.1% shooting.
Perhaps the biggest stat of the night, though, was the Jackrabbits making only 3 of 16 attempts from beyond the arc. Opponents are now shooting just 22.2% (12 of 54) from 3-point range against the Razorbacks through three games.
“If you think about it, we’re better inside than they are,” Anthony Black said. “So if we hold them to no 3s, we’re probably going to outscore them inside the 3-point line. There’s not going to be a lot of teams better inside than us. As long as we can defend the 3, we’re pretty confident that we’re going to win the battle inside the 3-point line.”
The 20 turnovers Arkansas forced led to 23 points and gives it a whopping 64 forced turnovers this season. It had just 45 forced turnovers at this point last season.
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
~This was the Razorbacks’ 500th game inside Bud Walton Arena, their home since the 1993-94 season. The win improves them to 409-91 (.818) all-time in the building.
~Sixth-year super senior Matt Dentlinger entered Wednesday’s game as the Jackrabbits’ leading scorer, averaging 16.7 points through their first three games. Arkansas didn’t allow him to make a shot and he finished with just 3 points, all at the free throw line. Despite playing 22 minutes, he had just two field goal attempts — well below the eight he was averaging.
~In addition to his team’s 20 turnovers, Musselman was not happy about the Razorbacks’ lack of free throw attempts. On top of that low number, they made just 8 of them, which is 53.3%. That lowered Arkansas’ season free throw percentage to 64.3%. The Razorbacks have shot at least 73.1% from the charity stripe in each of Musselman’s first three seasons.
~Musselman said the team passed the ball 231 times against South Dakota State, easily surpassing the usual goal of 200. That number was in the 150-170 range for the first two games. The result was 17 assists on 28 field goals.
~Junior Davonte “Devo” Davis rebounded from a rough 3-of-12 shooting night against Fordham by knocking down a couple of early mid-range jumpers and making a corner 3 later in the first half. He ultimately finished with 13 points on 5 of 10 shooting, which included 2 of 5 from deep. “Just keep shooting the ball,” Davis said. “I mean, Michael Jordan missed, so I know I’m going to miss. I just keep shooting, go in and go in. I work on it, so if it doesn’t go in, shoot again. Just continue to shoot the ball. I work on it, so I’m going to continue to trust in my work.”
Box Score – Arkansas 71, South Dakota State 56
Highlights from Arkansas’ 71-56 win over South Dakota State:
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