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Older players stepped up for Hogs

by Nate Allen | March 21, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.
Arkansas' Ricky Council shoots past Kansas' K.J. Adams Jr. during the second half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament Saturday, March 18, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Throughout Arkansas' now Sweet Sixteen season, these Razorbacks' identity applied most to their three freshmen of McDonald's High School All-American fame.

Not last Saturday, asserts Anthony Black.

The freshman point guard, most consistent throughout this up and down 22-13 overall, 8-10 SEC Razorbacks' season, deferred to the age before beauty adage describing Arkansas upending, 72-71 the No. 1 seeded/defending national champion Kansas Jayhawks in last Saturday's second-round West Regional in Des Moines, Iowa.

Saturday's success advanced Arkansas vs. Connecticut in Thursday's West Regional semifinal in Las Vegas.

"Older players carried us all night," Black said. "The younger players had to take a back seat."

McDonald's All-Americans Black, Nick Smith and Jordan Walsh, though Walsh was outstanding Saturday, played second fiddle to juniors Davonte "Devo" Davis, and Ricky Council and senior Kamani Johnson.

The Hogs have become Big Dance accustomed to Devo's doings. The guard from Jacksonville and lone 3-year letterman for Eric Musselman's Razorbacks, was proclaimed "Mr. March," on Saturday's postgame radio by assistant coach Gus Argenal.

Davis was instrumental in Musselman's 25-7 and 28-9 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 Razorbacks ascending to the Elite Eight. Never, though, so singly instrumental as 25 points, 10 consecutively, and eight rebounds against Kansas and 16 points, six rebounds and four steals in last Thursday's 73-63 first-round victory over Illinois.

Council, the 6-6 junior guard transfer via Wichita State, has been a season long force and leading scorer averaging 16.1 points. He double-doubled 18 points/12 rebounds, against Illinois. Versus Kansas, Council cashed 10 of 11 crucial free throws. He scored 21 points with six rebounds and four assists playing all 40 minutes.

Johnson, the lone senior completing his eligibility in this NCAA Tournament, became the front seat surprise.

The 6-7 Brooklyn born New Yorker forward, transferring to Musselman's Razorbacks via the University of Arkansas-Little Rock redshirting 2020-2021 as a junior, was mostly a 2021-2022 spare part. This season Johnson only played 24 of Arkansas' 33 games pre NCAA Tournament.

Musselman started him against Illinois and Kansas.

Against Illinois, Johnson logged five points and five rebounds in 12 minutes.

"Kamani led the game in offensive rebounds," Musselman said. "You're talking a player that played 12 minutes and had four offensive rebounds. Illinois had three as a team."

Against Kansas in 19 minutes Johnson grabbed a game-leading 10 rebounds. His four points included the pivotal putback of his miss forging Arkansas' 67-65 lead with 47 seconds left.

Argenal recalled Johnson's perseverance despite playing so little.

"The greatest thing a student-athlete can do is stick with it all year," Argenal said. "And he is on the biggest stage, making one the biggest plays he could ever make in college basketball. He deserves that."

Traveling a hard road but emerging with a UA degree last December plus a putback for the Arkansas ages, Johnson sticks by the head coach sticking by him.

"Just trust in Muss," Johnson said.

Print Headline: Older players stepped up for Hogs


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