The Saline Courier Weekend
Hogs hold on in 1st round, get Jayhawks
DES MOINES, Iowa – Arkansas took the lead early and then held off a late charge from Illinois to take a 73-63 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, at Wells Fargo Arena, and now will face Kansas today in the second round with tipoff coming at 4:15 p.m. on CBS.
The Razorbacks led 36-26 at intermission Thursday and both teams scored 37 in the second half. Eric Musselman was pleased to see his team get past Illinois.
“The first basket of the game was a post up to (Coleman) Hawkins and then after that we played great basketball,” Musselman said. “I was really proud of our team for leading 37 minutes. We were able to survive their run in the second half.”
In addition to not surrendering the lead late, which has been an issue for Arkansas, they also were successful at the free throw line much to the delight of Musselman.
“Obviously 22 for 29 from the foul line, you know shooting 76 percent in a big game, a win or go home game,” Musselman said. “John Daly will be happy. He gives me texts after every game about our free throw shooting.
I’m sure John will give me a positive text tonight on our foul shooting.”
The Razorbacks won the battle of the boards as well, 43-34. Ricky Council IV led the way with team leading 18 points and 10 rebounds. In addition, Makhi Mitchell had seven rebounds to go with his nine points and two blocks off the bench.
“Our rebounding was a big key,” Musselman said. “It felt like Illinois was so long, so tall, maybe one of the most, if not the most, athletic team in the
Big Ten. I thought we did a phenomenal job.”
Illinois got to within five, 62-57, on a RJ Melendez dunk with 2:30 remaining in the game. Things at that point were getting tense for the Razorbacks, but then Council made a layup and two free throws to push the lead back to a comfortable margin, 66-57, with 1:18 remaining. Musselman talked about the key to closing out the game and holding the lead.
“I think we’ve learned a lot,” Musselman said. “This is a team that’s still growing. I said before the tournament this is a team that continues to improve. We talk about improvement daily. We work on things to try to get better.”
In addition to Council and Mitchell, Arkansas got a big game from Devo Davis, who had 16 points, six rebounds, one assist and four steals. Those are good numbers offensively, but that wasn’t what Davis wanted to talk about afterward.
“Defense, defense, defense,” Davis said. “That’s our team. Just getting stops and getting on a run with our fast break game and I think we did that building our lead.”
Anthony Black was also good in his first NCAA Tournament game. He had 12 points, six rebounds, one assist, three steals and a block. Jordan Walsh had six points, four rebounds, one assist and three steals off the bench.
Nick Smith Jr. struggled on the night with just six points and one steal on 2 of 10 shooting. Kamani Johnson got the start and played 12 minutes finishing with five points and five rebounds.
Illinois was topped by Terrence Shannon Jr. with 20 points. Melendez added 10 points and six boards. Hawkins also had 10 points.
No. 8-seed Arkansas
(21-13) faces top-seeded Kansas (28-7), a 96-68 winner over 16-seeded Howard on Thursday. Kansas was without Coach Bill Self again on Thursday. Self had a recent hospital stay with a heart issue and also missed the Big 12 Tournament. It is unknown if he will return against Arkansas today.
Kansas (28-7) is the thirdseeded team in the overall tournament in addition to being at the top of the West
Wilson (6-8, 225) is a junior forward from Denton, Texas. He led the Jayhawks in the regular season with 20.1 points and 8.4 rebounds each outing.
Junior guard Dajuan Harris Jr. (6-1, 175) leads the team in assists (6.3) and steals (2.2). He’s also averaging 8.8 points per game. Sophomore forward K.J. Adams (6-7, 225) is leading the Jayhawks with 0.8 block each game. Adams is also averaging 10.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.7 steals each time out.
Freshman guard Gradey Dick (6-8, 205) has also been big for Kansas. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.3 block per game. Senior guard Kevin Mccullar Jr. (6-6, 210) is the other Jayhawk having a good season. He has averaged 10.6 points, 7.1 rebounds,
2.4 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.7 blocks for the Jayhawks.