FAYETTEVILLE – A previously 7-1 Abilene Christian Wildcats team that in their lone lossmenaced 15th ranked Texas Tech posed no threat to Arkansas until way too late.
Tuesday afternoon at Walton Arena, minus Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman quarantined at home because of covid-19 contact tracing and Arkansas assistants Clay Mosier and Anthony Ruta also absent, the Razorbacks scored 11 consecutive points after Abilene Christian’s 1-0 lead on the game’s first free throw en route to a 47-31 first half and eventual 85-72 victory.
With Musselman at home but phone interviewed during the first half by the SEC Network televising the game, David Patrick, the first-year Arkansas assistant/associate head coach and former head coach at California-Riverside, coached Tuesday’s triumph.
It upped the Razorbacks to 8-0 going into their Dec. 30 SEC opener in Auburn, Ala. against the Auburn Tigers.
Desi Sills’ 16 first-half points helped Arkansas’ first-half lead peak at 22. Amassing his third and fourth fouls quickly in the second half, Sills, 18 points for the game, and the Hogs didn’t fare so spectacularly in the second half but still led by never less than nine.
Three 3-pointers by Arkansas reserve guard JD Notae in the final 5:25 helped fend off the determined Wildcats of Coach Joe Golding.
Notae scored 19 while Arkansas freshman guard Moses Moody led all scorers with 21.
Reserve forward Clay Cayman of Nevada, Mo. surprisingly led the Wildcats scoring 18 including 4 of 7 treys.
Though expecting to open the game concentrating on Arkansas’ defense against Golding’s Wildcats, Patrick adjusted quickly both to head coaching and head coaching against Abilene Christian.
“ I played Abilene Christian two years ago at a tournament at Pacific,” Patrick said of head coaching California-Riverside. “That’s what Joe (Golding) was teasing me about when the game finished. It was kind of like a knockdown, drag-out fight, which they came and got the better of it.I went back to my notes and kind of knew how they played. But definitely having some familiarity with their team helped, at least from my standpoint having competed against them before.”
What was his day like?
“It’s 2020 so you’ve got to be ready for anything,” Patrick said of covid-19 altering who’s playing and even who’s coaching. “I found out about 10 am that I would be coaching the game and reached out to the team with an Instagram at 11:20. Coach Muss had this game two days prepared for this team that we’re playing, Abilene Christian. But when I found out I was going to be the head coach I had to get caught up on what we were going to do offensively. I knew what we were going to do defensively.”
Apparently Sills knew well what Arkansas would do offensively scoring nine of Arkansas’ 11-0 run after Abilene Christian scored the game’s first point.
“He’s kind of been our anchor all year,” Patrick said. “He moves the ball and when he gets his feet set he can knock down the open three. And he does a great job cutting behind their defense.
Desi brings it every day. He’s one of the first ones in the gym and last to leave and it kind of carries over to your game.”
Sills hit 6 of 7 free throws and Moody connected 6 of 8 free throws. Free throws were essential to Arkansas prevailing canning 24 of 30 to Abilene Christian’s 9 of 15.
“We stressed not setting for threes,” Patrick said stressing Sunday’s poor down 40-30 first half against Oral Roberts before winning, 87-76. “We didn’t feel they had great shot-blockers. So we tried to get to the rim and we were aggressive trying to get there and a lot of times if we didn’t get to the rim we got fouled. I think any night you shoot 30 free throws you’ve got a good chance to win, especially when you make 24 of them.”
Freshman Moody, “he doesn’t play like a freshman,” Patrick said, cited Sills’ first half.
“He came out aggressive, he was hitting shots, getting to the cup,”Moody said. “Desi does more than just shoot the ball. He can get into the lane, get us a lot of FTAs, so he’s going to get to the line and draw the defense and kick out and create. He can do it all. His stat line doesn’t just stop with scoring.”
Moody said Patrick stepped right into Musselman’s coaching shoes.
“I think he definitely stepped up,” Moody said. “That is something that Coach (Musselman) always talks about – when one man goes down, another steps up. The coaching staff is a team and we had to protect our undefeated season so far without Coach.”
Patrick wasn’t surprised that Abilene Christian fought back somewhat deflating Arkansas’ first half cushion.
“‘They made some big threes late,” Patrick said. “Hats off to them for fighting back and hats off to our guys for weathering the storm.”
And though threes weren’t stressed, Patrick appreciated those late Notae treys and his filling in at point guard when starter Jalen Tate turned an ankle during the second half.
Patrick said he likely could have reinserted Tate if needed and expects him to play against Auburn.
The Razorbacks break for Christmas and return Friday with Patrick overseeing the practices for the Auburn game until Musselman has completed quarantine.