Saturday, February 24, 2024

Musselman pushed right buttons ahead of Arkansas basketball win over Georgia | Whole Hog Sports

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FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas men’s basketball team used small ball in beating Georgia 78-75 on Saturday at Walton Arena.

For the majority of the game, Coach Eric Musselman used a four-guard lineup of 6-3 El Ellis, 6-4 Davonte “Devo” Davis, 6-6 Tramon Mark and 6-1 Keyon Menifield.

While the Razorbacks (12-11, 3-7 SEC) sacrificed some size, the four-guard lineup helped them convert steals into baskets, defend the three-point line, move the ball and take care of it when Menifield wasn’t losing track of where he was on the court.

Menifield, a sophomore transfer from Washington, had 5 of the Razorbacks’ 12 turnovers — including 4 when he stepped out of bounds.

But Menifield made up for those mistakes in other areas. He played 31 minutes off the bench and scored 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

One of the more impressive plays for the Razorbacks was Menifield blocking a three-point attempt from behind by 6-7 RJ Melendez in the first half, grabbing the loose ball and driving for a layup.

“He had a really good game,” Ellis said. “Stepped out of bounds, but that happens.

“He really scored at a high level. He got me some open looks, I got him some open looks. He got in the lane and made the right play.”

After Ellis committed 5 turnovers in Arkansas’ 63-57 loss to No. 17 Kentucky on Jan. 27, he didn’t play in the games at Missouri and LSU.

But Musselman said Ellis had a good week of practice, so he started against Georgia.

Ellis, a senior transfer from Louisville, rewarded Musselman’s confidence by having 15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 1 turnover in 37 minutes.

“Staying ready, staying in the gym,” Ellis said of how he performed so well after not playing for two weeks. “Being confident in myself.

“I would say I really just love to hoop. Regardless of the circumstances, I’m going to be ready to play. I’ve got some really good teammates around that keep me uplifted, keep me ready.

“We’ve got some really good [graduate assistants] and coaching staff that keep me staying in the gym. They rebound for me, no matter what. That’s what helped me have a good game.”

Ellis, Menifield, Mark and Davis combined for 47 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists and 9 steals. They shot 17 of 31 from the field and 8 of 12 on free throws.

Mark, a junior transfer from Houston, finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks and 2 assists in 39 minutes. Davis, a senior in his fourth season at Arkansas, had 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes.

Musselman rotated senior big men — 6-10 Makhi Mitchell, 6-10 Jalen Graham and 6-8 Chandler Lawson — into the game to guard Georgia’s 7-0 Russel Tchewa or 6-9 Jalen DeLoach, but Davis and Ellis guarded power forwards in Melendez and 6-9 Dylan James.

Davis missed the previous three games after an announcement was made he had stepped away from the team, but he returned to practice last Monday.

“Defensively we’re much different with Devo in there,” Musselman said. “He did a great job guarding [power forward], and actually El Ellis defended [the power forward] for probably about 20 to 22 minutes tonight.

“I thought he did a great job defending and we didn’t get hurt in the post at that position at all.”

The Razorbacks had been getting hurt on the perimeter consistently in SEC play. Going into the Georgia game, Arkansas’ conference opponents were shooting 39.4% on three-pointers.

But Georgia finished 4 of 18 on three-pointers after starting 0 of 11.

“We added a bunch of drills that were new,” Musselman said. “Obviously what we’ve done the last four years, those drills haven’t really worked.”

The new practice drill, Musselman said, featured two players guarding four and communicating as they closed out on the shooters.

“I thought it really helped us,” Musselman said. “It’s not an easy drill at all, where two guys have to guard four and not allow a three-pointer.

“We worked this week, we really did, and I thought what our players did in practice helped us.

“What we talked about is, it’s hard to make threes if [defenders] are so close that you’re run off the three-point line and you have no air space.

“That’s as good as we’ve done against a quality team guarding the three, without a question.”

The Razorbacks’ nine steals helped them outscore the Bulldogs 21-8 in points off of turnovers.

“Their hand activity on the basketball was good,” Georgia Coach Mike White said.

Musselman said the Razorbacks had 227 passes, well past their goal each game of 200.

“I thought the ball really, really moved,” Musselman said. “The ball had energy.”

Davis managed to thread a pass through multiple Bulldogs to Mitchell for a layup with 54 seconds left that put Arkansas ahead for good at 74-72.

“I had an angle on it from the left slot near half court to the rim,” White said of Davis’ pass. “Tchewa got a fingertip on it and if he’d have gotten more than a fingertip, it might have changed the outcome of the game. But it was a great pass, great finish.”

Musselman said that for the first time he could remember Davis asking to come out of a game for a brief rest.

“He really busted his behind this week to play catchup a little bit from a conditioning standpoint,” Musselman said. “He played really hard.”

Arkansas got 14 points from Mitchell and 11 from Graham and shot 5 of 14 on three-pointers, with Ellis 3 of 6 and Davis hitting his only attempt.

“Certainly when we have somebody make a three, it opens up dribble drive angles and then it opens up points in the paint,” Musselman said. “Then all of a sudden, guys like Khi Mitchell can get 1-on-1 coverage … We need some threes to keep the defense honest and stretched out.”

While the four-guard lineup worked well against Georgia, Musselman said the Razorbacks could have a different look when they play No. 6 Tennessee (17-6, 7-3) on Wednesday night at Walton Arena.

“Now we have nine guaranteed games left and we’re still trying to search,” Musselman said. “Based on matchups, we might have different lineups. That just might be who we are.”

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