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After somewhat of a slow start, Arkansas quickly got it going and poured it on Mississippi Valley State at a historic level in its season opener Wednesday night.
The Razorbacks completely overwhelmed the Delta Devils, posting their second-largest margin of victory ever and more than doubling up the SWAC bottom-feeders to the tune of a 142-62 blowout inside Bud Walton Arena.
Led by Connor Vanover’s 23 points, eight different Razorbacks scored in double figures as they won their 46th consecutive home opener.
“When you get up by a lot of points, I think it’s human nature to take your foot off the gas a little bit and to get a little discombobulated and a little selfish,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “I didn’t think they did that. I thought they were executing play sets. Even with 1:19 to go, we executed a play.”
It was the second-most points Arkansas has ever scored in a regular-season game, trailing only the 166 it scored in a win over U.S. International in 1989, while the 80-point margin was second only to an 82-point win over Bethune-Cookman in 1991.
The Razorbacks were lethal from beyond the arc, knocking down 20 of 40 three-pointers. It was tied for the second-most threes they’ve ever made and one shy of matching the record of 21 set against Troy in 1996.
As lopsided as the final score was, Arkansas actually trailed by one during a sloppy couple of minutes to start the game. Mississippi Valley State couldn’t take advantage of the early turnovers, though, and the Razorbacks eventually shook off the first-game jitters and heated up.
“I asked the guys before the game if they were nervous,” Musselman said. “I don’t know if I’ve had a team say yeah, but they did. They raised their hands, they were honest. It’s been a long time since we’ve competed.”
Arkansas led just 13-8 six minutes into the game, but then went on a 28-0 run that ballooned its lead to 33 points. The Delta Devils never got closer than 25 points the rest of the way and the rout was on.
It wasn’t until a layup by Alexander Perry at the 7:22 mark in the first half that Mississippi Valley ended that run and got into double figures as a team. Up to that point, the Delta Devils had made just 3 of their first 20 shots, including a missed dunk a few seconds before the aforementioned layup, and had more turnovers (9) than points (8).
The key to Arkansas’ massive run was three-point shooting. Four different players combined to make eight shots beyond the ark during that stretch, including four by Vance Jackson, who actually missed everything on his first attempt of the game.
“It was a good makeup for the airball that I shot,” Jackson said. “The first shot kind of slipped out of my hands. I just had to stay poised and stay focused, just knock it down. I’m in the gym every day putting in the work and you see the results.”
The graduate transfer from New Mexico came into the game needing just 10 points to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career, which began at UConn. He reached that milestone on the fourth three-pointer and finished the game with 15 points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes.
Arkansas’ lead hovered in the upper-20s and lower-30s the rest of the half and it led 61-30 at the break.
Coming out of the locker room, the Razorbacks made sure not to replicate their slow start in the first half. After scoring just eight points in the first four minutes of the game, they came out firing in the second half.
Keyed by five quick points from Desi Sills, Arkansas scored the first 16 points of the half and ended up scoring 21 points in the first four minutes. After scoring just five first-half points, Sills exploded for 14 points in just five minutes after halftime, finishing the game with 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting.
A pair of free throws by J.D. Notae pushed the Razorbacks’ lead to 50 shortly after that initial burst and the margin just kept growing. Vanover knocked down another three-pointer to give Arkansas 100 points with 11:36 remaining in the game.
Playing his first game with the Razorbacks, the 7-foot-3 Little Rock native – who began his career at California before transferring back home – shot 8 of 11 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from deep, and also contributed eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
“It was surreal,” Vanover said. “I think this is amazing to come back to Arkansas, (wear) an Arkansas uniform, back where I grew up. I’ve watched them on TV, so it’s just special to come back here and really put a performance on for this state.”
Two of Arkansas’ touted freshmen were among those who scored at least 10 points Wednesday night.
Moses Moody was the lone underclassman in the starting lineup and even though he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (3 of 12 field goals, 1 of 6 three-pointers), he got the free throw line frequently and made 9 of 10 attempts to help him score 16 points in 24 minutes.
“He got more field goals attempted than anyone on our team and I think that happens a lot of times with guys that are creative with their ability to beat people off the bounce,” Musselman said. “But again, 10 free throws in your first college game is a lot. I thought he did a really good job.”
Coming off the bench, KK Robinson was a much more efficient 5 of 8 from the floor – including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc – on his way to scoring 15 points in 18 minutes.
As for the other freshmen, Jaylin Williams was just shy of being a ninth player in double figures – finishing with 9 points – but grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, while Davonte Davis had just five points in 12 minutes.
Arkansas will have two days off before returning to the floor in Bud Walton Arena to face North Texas, the defending Conference USA champion. Tip off is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT and the game will be streamed on SEC Network-Plus.