No. 9 Arkansas will end a three-game homestand when it hosts UNC Greensboro Tuesday night in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Razorbacks (7-1) have won their last three outings since a loss to then-No. 10 Creighton in the Maui Invitational, getting wins over Troy and San Jose State last week after returning to the mainland.
They led the Spartans only 40-35 at the halftime break but rolled to their biggest win of the young season, 99-58, on the strength of a 59-23 second half.
It was the first time this season that coach Eric Musselman had a full complement of 13 scholarship players available, and it showed early.
“I thought we struggled a little bit with trying to figure things out,” Musselman said. “I know I struggled as well with substitution patterns and stuff. But I thought the second half the guys settled in and they played with great offensive freedom, and I thought we did a better job defensively on Omari Moore, who’s a really, really talented offensive player.”
Moore scored only five of his team-high 21 points in the second half.
Trevon Brazile led Arkansas 23 points and Ricky Council IV added 17, but the most welcome contribution came from Nick Smith Jr.
The heralded freshman guard was playing his second collegiate game and making his first start. He scored 16 points, hitting 3 of 5 3-pointers. He was scoreless in six minutes off the bench in the 74-61 win over Troy in his collegiate debut.
“I think Nick will just keep getting better,” Musselman said. “He’ll keep getting more comfortable. His teammates will understand his tendencies. He was disappointed his last game. His expectations of his first game were different than what happened and he told me that. I told him I’m a little older and I knew that the first game when you have a player who has been injured it’s not easy the first game.”
UNC Greensboro (4-5) is coming off a 65-61 road win over Elon that snapped a three-game losing streak. Mikeal Brown-Jones scored a career-high 20 points, but he is third in scoring for the Spartans on the season with an 11.1 average.
Keondre Kennedy (15.4 points per game) and Keyshaun Langley (11.6) are the team’s top two scorers for second-year coach Mike Jones. Kennedy also is the No. 1 rebounder (7.3 rebounds per game).
Jones is in his second season at UNC Greensboro after a successful run at Radford, where he was a two-time Big South Conference Coach of the Year. An assistant under Shaka Smart on VCU’s 2011 Final Four team, Jones guided Radford to an NCAA Tournament appearance, two Big South regular-season championships and five seasons of at least 20 wins.
He came to Greensboro with high aspirations with the Spartans having won at least 20 games for five consecutive seasons. The Spartans finished 17-15 his first season.
“The expectation level is higher,” Jones said “You feel it with the administration. You feel it with the alumni, with guys who have played here, with the community. That makes you want to work harder.”
“There’s an expectation there of winning,” Jones said last month while at a tournament in Laval, Quebec. “There is a love of basketball there by the community. So it’s one of those jobs that people expect you to win, and you get players that understand that as well. They’re very competitive, they care about defense, they care about the things that go into it off the court.”
–Field Level Media