FAYETTEVILLE — The last time Trevon Brazile was on the floor at Bud Walton Arena, he was still on Maui time. After Saturday’s performance, it’s safe to say he’s back on Arkansas time.
The big man followed up an abysmal outing against Troy with a dominant performance in the No. 11 Razorbacks’ 99-58 blowout win over San Jose State, their second game back from the Maui Invitational.
After scoring only 3 points against the Trojans, Brazile poured in a career-high 23 points on an efficient 8-of-9 shooting in about 30 minutes against the Spartans.
“His game off the bounce and his energy was phenomenal,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “That was the first time I’ve been to Maui, and it kind of does take its toll just because of the time change and your sleep patterns. He looked like he was well-rested tonight.”
It was quite the bounce-back performance by the Missouri transfer because his struggles earlier in the week went beyond his lack of scoring, which came on 1 of 5 shooting. Despite being 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he didn’t have a single rebound in 25 minutes. He also had 5 turnovers with only 1 assist and 2 steals.
Even though it was Brazile’s worst game in an Arkansas uniform, Musselman didn’t hit the panic button. In fact, his assessment of the sophomore’s performance after the game kind of foreshadowed his outing against San Jose State.
“I thought he struggled tonight,” Musselman said Monday night. “He’s had some really great games for us, but tonight was not one of them. So hopefully he’ll get himself ready to play the next game and rebound the ball at his size and play a little bit better than what we saw tonight. He’s certainly capable of playing much better.”
Sure enough, Brazile grabbed 5 rebounds, dished 2 assists with only 2 turnovers, blocked 2 shots and had a steal to go along with his efficient scoring night, which included shooting 6 of 8 from the charity stripe after drawing six fouls.
“Everybody has off days,” Brazile said. “That just happened to be one of my off days. I’m going to do the same thing every time down the floor. My energy was a little low last game, but I just came out with high energy and just did the same thing I do every game.”
At one point in the middle of the first half, Brazile converted back-to-back old-fashioned 3-point plays to give Arkansas a six-point lead. He did knock down a corner 3 in the second half, but he really hurt the Spartans on drives to the basket Saturday.
“I think he does a good job of just trying to kind of figure out what the defense gives him,” Musselman said. “Some games it has been spot-up 3s. Tonight, I thought he did a really, really good job of beating people off the bounce in that trail spot. Maybe there were harder closeouts to take away his 3s, and he’s got an incredible long stride to the rim and covers a lot of space in very few dribbles.”
Through eight games, Brazile is averaging 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds, plus has 9 each of assists, steals and blocks. Those are solid numbers, but he may just be scratching the surface of his full potential.
“I feel like Trevon could be a first-round pick if he plays hard all the time,” teammate Nick Smith Jr. said. “That’s one thing we try to implement everyday is for him just playing hard consistently. Obviously tonight he scored attacking the basket. He’s got a good jump shot. Defensively, I feel like he could be a good piece for us.”
True Debut for Nick Smith Jr.
After missing the first month of the season with a knee injury, Nick Smith Jr. made his collegiate debut earlier in the week against Troy. However, that was just a teaser.
A minutes restriction and the nature of the game led to the freshman phenom playing just six minutes and he failed to score — something he believes hadn’t happened since he was 8 years old and playing up two age groups on a team coached by his dad.
Needless to say, most Arkansas basketball fans will remember Saturday as Smith’s true debut. In the starting lineup for the first time and playing 24 minutes, he scored 16 points and dished 5 assists.
“Obviously I’ve been waiting on this moment ever since I made the decision to come here,” Smith said. “I feel like I played okay. I feel like I can play a lot better, but that just comes with time.”
Smith scored his first points early on, knocking down a 3-pointer from the wing about two minutes into the game. He ended up making 3 of 5 attempts from beyond the arc as part of his overall 6-of-14 shooting performance, which included drives to the basket and several floaters.
“I think that first game for any player is a challenge,” Eric Musselman said. “Tonight he played with great freedom, I think, even mentally. He knew there was no minutes restriction on him. He changes our team offensively with his ability to make 3s and beat people off the bounce.”
Smith admitted that his knee was “a little sore” afterward, but it didn’t sound like much of a concern. Therapy and ice are on the docket Saturday night before Sunday’s practice.
Getting back into the swing of things — participating in practice regularly and being full-go in games — should help speed up the process of Smith getting back to where he was pre-injury, which is a player many believe will be a top-five pick in next year’s NBA Draft.
“I feel like as the season progresses, I feel like I’ll be more active on the defensive end,” Smith said. “I kind of got a little winded out there. I feel like it just comes with time.”
Continuing to develop chemistry with his teammates, who had already played six games together before he returned to the court Monday, should also help Smith blossom into his projected status of first-team All-SEC.
“I think Nick will just keep getting better,” Musselman said. “He’ll keep getting more comfortable. His teammates will start understanding his tendencies. Look, he was disappointed last game. His expectations of his first game were different than what happened, and he told me that.”
SEC Network’s Eric Musselman Flub
Unlike the first three non-conference games inside Bud Walton Arena, the last two Arkansas basketball games have been nationally televised on the SEC Network.
Those watching Saturday’s Arkansas vs SJSU matchup from home might have noticed a bizarre typo in one of the graphics shown during the game.
That’s right: According to that graphic, Eric Musselman is not only the NCAA’s all-time leader in wins, but he’s blowing former Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,202 wins out of the water and closing in on 2,000 wins.
While it was obviously just a case of someone fat-fingering his coaching record, what made the mistake even funnier is that Musselman’s winning percentage is also incorrect. The .968 mark is accurate for the 1,888-63 record, but he actually came into the game with a 189-63 record, which has a still-impressive .750 winning percentage.
Throw in the win over San Jose State and Eric Musselman is now 80-29 overall with the Razorbacks.
Jalen Graham Sighting
It’s hard to imagine any team in America — outside of the NBA — has a 10th man as talented as the one this Arkansas basketball team has, but that’s just where Jalen Graham finds himself in the rotation through eight games.
After not playing at all in two of the Razorbacks’ last three games, and getting just 2 minutes in the other, the Arizona State transfer played a key role in turning a comfortable win over San Jose State into a massive blowout.
He checked into the game with 13:31 left in the second half and needed only 20 seconds to score his first basket. That was the start of an 11-point, 6-rebound performance in just under 12 minutes of action, during which he also notched an assist and a steal, committed two turnovers and drew three fouls.
The Razorbacks were plus-23 with him on the floor, as he helped their lead grow from 14 to 37 before being replaced by a walk-on with a couple of minutes remaining.
“Jalen Graham had a great game,” teammate Trevon Brazile said. “He went in there and did what he was supposed to do for however long he was in there… Just him playing hard even though he’s sat the bench, coming in and playing hard no matter what his situation was. Lots of respect for him.”
Even with Saturday’s game included, Graham has played just 39 minutes this season. Most of his action has come late in blowouts and his 7.8 minutes per game (he has three DNPs) rank 10th on the team.
Considering his status as a second-team All-Pac-12 performer at Arizona State, that is probably not the role he envisioned when he transferred to Arkansas. However, he has maintained a good attitude and could potentially see his minutes increase moving forward.
Eric Musselman praised him for his offensive prowess — excellent interior passing, an “incredible, soft” floater and his effectiveness against zones — but effort and defensive intensity has likely led to his lack of playing time. Against San Jose State, though, he showed improvement in both areas, even drawing two charges.
That’s something Musselman admittedly “didn’t expect,” but giving Graham extended minutes was something he planned to do because of how he’d practiced leading up to the game.
“His practice habits this week were the best since he’s been here, so without discussing it with anyone, I felt like coming into the game that if I did not reward him with some minutes, it would be unfair because we have those things that we wear and you can look at the energy that they (expend), however many jumps they do and all that stuff,” Musselman said. “He had his best week, so I’m glad he got an opportunity to play when the game was in the balance and played well.”
Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits
- In his first game back after a one-game absence, Davonte Davis came off the bench for the first time this season. Although he failed to score, the junior had 3 assists with no turnovers and was plus-23 in 22 minutes. “It was a little weird not having Devo (against Troy),” Brazile said. “I don’t know what it is, he just brings a certain type of leadership to us. He’s just got kind of that dog mentality.”
- The Razorbacks had 197 passes in the win, which was just shy of their goal of 200, but Eric Musselman said he believed how they shared the ball led to them shooting 62.7% from the floor and 61.5% (8 of 14) from deep. “I think when you share the ball and let the game come to you, our percentages are going to go up as well,” Musselman said.
- He was on the floor for only 11.5 minutes, but Makhi Mitchell was once again Arkansas’ biggest offensive threat at the start of the game. After scoring the first six points against Troy, the Rhode Island transfer had six of the Razorbacks’ first nine points against San Jose State.
- The game got so out of hand that freshmen Derrian Ford, Joseph Pinion and Barry Dunning Jr. got to play 7, 5 and 4 minutes, respectively. Walk-ons Cade Arbogast and Lawson Blake played the final 1:52, as well, with Arbogast sending the bench and crowd into a frenzy by knocking down a 3-pointer.
- Arkansas struggled to keep San Jose State’s star player, Omari Moore, in check in the first half. He had 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting, 4 assists and only 1 turnover before halftime. It was a different story in the second half, as Moore managed just 5 points on 2 of 4 shooting and had 3 turnovers with no assists.
Arkansas vs SJSU Highlights
Arkansas vs SJSU Postgame Pressers
Hear from Eric Musselman, Trevon Brazile and Nick Smith after the game:
Arkansas vs SJSU Box Score
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