FAYETTEVILLE – Eric Musselman out of desperation debuted Davonte Davis starting Arkansas’ 81-68 loss on Jan. 2 vs. Missouri.
Arkansas’ coach planned purpose for Davis’ second start last Saturday.
Davonte Davis definitely delivered. The 6-3 freshman guard from Jacksonville they call Devo’ delivered what Musselman planned and then some in the Razorbacks’ 99-69 march through Georgia at Walton Arena.
“Devo,” Musselman said. “Great offensively. Great defensively.”
Davis’ minutes ranked 10th among the 11 on Razorbacks’ men’s basketball scholarship when it was learned starting forward Justin Smith’s previous game ankle injury was more serious than what then coaches initially feared.
Smith still rehabs from surgery though hope remains he’ll actively return in weeks rather than months.
So against Missouri Musselman tried starting Davis with regular starting guards Jalen Tate, Desi Sills and Moses Moody and center Connor Vanover.
That five and all other desperate combinations Musselman used in that misery against Mizzou failed at Walton in the now 10-2 Razorbacks’ by far worst game this season.
Actually Davis, four points, four rebounds and three steals, provided some of the few bright spots against Mizzou. By 17:39 in the first half Davis tallied Arkansas’ first two points and logged two steals.
To Musselman, nobody’s bright spots would be bright enough on these Hogs’ darkest day.
“I’ll be honest,” a disconsolate Musselman replied to how Davis fared. “I didn’t think anybody played very good today.”
The Hogs played much better, with Davis contributing five decent minutes off the bench, losing, 79-74 last Wednesday at No. 9 Tennessee.
However for the second consecutive game junior mainstay guard Sills struggled badly. The coach thought Sills could best regain his game off the bench at which he excelled last season.
So Musselman plotted starting athletic young guard Davis in switched defensive assignments with point guard/premier defensive stopper Tate against Georgia guards Sahvir Wheeler and Justin Kier.
“Tonight, Jalen Tate didn’t guard their point guard (Wheeler),” Musselman said. “Devo did. And Jalen Tate guarded their off guard (Kier) based on length and based on what we thought Devo could do with the point guard.”
Given Wheeler averaged 13.7 points and Kier, 12.6 entering Saturday’s game what’s so defensively great about them scoring 15 each on Arkansas?
Try not only the 99-69 final score but Davis scoring a career high 20 and grad transfer Tate scoring 15. Aside from points, which in Davis’ case added to freshman Moses Moody scoring a game-high 25 for them to be the first Razorbacks freshmen simultaneously scoring 20 or more in a game since UA Sports Hall of Honor inductees Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman in 1993, Tate double-doubled with 10 assists vs. one turnover.
Davis delivered seven rebounds, three steals and six assists against three turnovers.
When Razorbacks radio man Chuck Barrett postgame opined that Davis “played like a veteran,” Musselman emphatically concurred.
“He did,” Musselman said, emphasizing Davis first did what was assigned and then some.
“We didn’t run a play for him and he goes 9 of 14 from the field,” Musselman said. “But I think the big thing, the reason he was inserted into the lineup, was so he could guard Wheeler. I thought he did a great job on Wheeler.”
He explained why.
“Wheeler is as fast as any player in our league,” Musselman said. “Devo did a great job of following the game plan, not over-gambling and not being overanxious and just trying to keep Wheeler in front which again that was the reason he was in then lineup. And offensively he was phenomenal for us.”
When did Davis learn he’d get a second start?
“”Going into the next practice the next day (Thursday post Tennessee game) Coach told me I was going to start,” Davis said,
Did it feel any different than his first start?
“No sir, not at all,” Davis said. “I’m just going to come in and play my role and do what I have to do to help the team out.”
Well it sure seemed like he better dissects the game now than earlier this season.
“Yes sir, for sure,” Davis said. “Just being able to get on the court and just feel the game and let things come to me and just taking what the defense gives me is the opportunity for me. They gave me a lot of shots and I did what I had to do to help my team win.”
Defensively, he said his teammates provide him confidence by their confidence in him.
“Everyone on the team has been telling me I’m probably one of the best defenders that they’ve played with,” Davis said. “So I just take that and run with it.”