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FAYETTEVILLE — After living at the free throw line in the first two games of his career, Moses Moody’s shots finally started to fall Wednesday night.
The star freshman knocked down his first six attempts of the game in a 24-point performance and finished a rebound shy of a double-double to help Arkansas to a 72-60 win over UT-Arlington inside Bud Walton Arena.
“He missed probably three layups, so he’s going to end up eventually converting those,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “I thought his shot selection from three-point range was absolutely phenomenal. For a freshman to go out in his third game and give you 24 and 9 – and 10 (free throw attempts) – is really, really impressive.”
Viewed as a potential one-and-done prospect, Moody shot just 23.8 percent (5 of 21) from the floor and made only 2 of 10 three-pointers in Arkansas’ wins over Mississippi Valley State and North Texas. His 13.5-point scoring average was instead bolstered by 15-of-16 showing at the free throw line.
That changed against UT-Arlington, as he was an efficient 7 of 12 – including 2 of 3 from deep – while also going 8 of 10 at the charity stripe. The Little Rock native nearly doubled his rebound total from the first two games, as well, grabbing nine boards.
“You always assume you’re going to hit shots, but when you don’t, you’ve got to trust the process,” Moody said. “Too many people get too high after a big game or get too low after a bad game, but it’s just about trusting the process and trusting the work you put in and staying even keel.”
Musselman said the key to Moody’s improved shooting was his aggressiveness while still not forcing things offensively. However, he was probably the happiest about his rebounding, which he called an underrated aspect of his game.
“When he can go get nine, it’s really vital to our team because, shoot, last year there were a lot of times we didn’t have anybody get nine,” Musselman said. “When you’re getting that from the guard spot, it changes who you are defensively.”
It was an important showing by the freshman considering the Mavericks were a scrappy team early on. They actually led the first few minutes of the game before a 6-0 spurt by Arkansas turned a three-point deficit into a three-point lead.
Carson Bischoff responded with a three-pointer to tie it up for UT-Arlington, but Moody answered with a three of his own a few seconds later to give the Razorbacks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Arkansas had a hard time putting distance between itself and the Mavericks, though, as the teams exchanged blows for a stretch before the Razorbacks finally maintained a double-digit lead over the last few minutes of the half. They built that cushion by knocking down shots from beyond the arc. After starting just 1 of 6, Arkansas made 5 of its next 8 three-pointers.
Possessing the ball for almost the entire final minute of the half thanks to a couple of offensive boards, UT-Arlington had a chance to get it back within single digits, but missed three straight shots to preserve the Razorbacks’ 44-33 lead.
Coming out of the break, UT-Arlington managed to get within eight points a couple of times early in the half, but Arkansas put the game away with a 13-0 run.
That sequence was highlighted by a Jaylin Williams steal that led to a reverse layup by Moody on an assist from Desi Sills. The play forced the Mavericks to call a timeout, but even that didn’t stop the bleeding.
UT-Arlington couldn’t even get a shot off out of the timeout and committed a shot clock violation. Arkansas tacked on another five points after that to push its lead to 21 points with 13 minutes remaining.
It seemed like it might turn into a blowout, but the Razorbacks went ice cold down the stretch. They shot just 2 of 17 from the floor over the final 10 minutes of the game, allowing the Mavericks to make the score look more competitive.
“I was not happy with how we finished the late eight minutes, but having said that…very few teams play 40 minutes of flawless basketball,” Musselman said. “We went through our bad stretch to end the game. But we certainly got some things we can clean up.”
Both of Arkansas’ buckets during that stretch were made by Jalen Tate, with one of them being a three-pointer. The graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky was a stat-stuffer, finishing with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, one steal and one blocked shot.
Tate was also in charge of guarding Shahada Wells, the Mavericks’ leading scorer. Although he ended up scoring 17 – one shy of his season average – Wells had a tough night, with 12 points coming in the second half after his team got down by 21.
His overall performance was reflected in Tate’s team-best plus-17 in 33 minutes Wednesday night.
“(I’m) just doing everything I can to help this team win,” Tate said. “If it means I’ve got to go out there and distribute the ball more…four assists is kind of low. … If it’s rebounding a whole lot more, I probably need to be more active on the boards. I don’t want to get settled or just ok with tonight.”
Another positive for the Razorbacks was how well they rebounded against UT-Arlington. They were plus-13 on the boards, highlighted by a whopping 17 offensive rebounds. The most offensive boards they had in a single game last season was 14 against Montana.
That was a point of emphasis going into the game, as Musselman felt his team could exploit the Mavericks’ style of trying to get out Into transition.
“We thought they kind of leaked out at times, so we had a choice either to get back on defense or crash the O boards,” Musselman said. “I felt like we could offensive rebound tonight if they were going to send a guy or two down the other way and I was going to kind of live with that decision with a Plan B that we’d just get back.”
In addition to Moody, Justin Smith also pulled down nine rebounds to go with his 11 points, meaning he finished a rebound shy of a double-double – something he achieved just four times during his three seasons at Indiana.
One of the surprises Wednesday night was the lack of minutes for Connor Vanover. Just a few days removed from a monster 16-rebound, 6-block performance in 34 minutes against North Texas, the 7-foot-3 standout didn’t play in the final 16 minutes and was on the court for just 12 minutes against UT-Arlington.
While he was extremely efficient with his minutes, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, Vanover was a defensive liability that the Mavericks took advantage of, leading to him posting a plus-minus of zero.
“When the game was going on, I thought that they really went at Connor in middle pick-and-roll,” Musselman said. “I thought Connor was incredible offensively, like incredible, but we have to try to figure out what our pick-and-roll package is when people go at Connor.”
To counter that, Williams – the 6-foot-10 freshman – got extended action after not coming off the bench at all against North Texas, playing 12 minutes. Graduate transfer Vance Jackson Jr. saw his playing time increase from eight to 20 minutes, but struggled with three turnovers and an 0-for-5 shooting performance.
It’s also worth noting that J.D. Notae played just 12 minutes – all in the first half – after scoring 16 points off the bench against North Texas. He suffered an apparent thumb injury at one point, but managed to return and Musselman said his health wasn’t a factor in him not playing after halftime.
Instead, he was pleased with the play of freshman KK Robinson – who played 13 minutes before fouling out after getting just six in the last game.
“You never know how many minutes you’re going to get out there and whose night it’s going to be,” Tate said. “(It was) Moses tonight. Last (game) it was Connor. Every single day, depth is a good problem to have.”
The Razorbacks improved to 3-0 with the victory, while the Mavericks suffered their worst loss of the young season and dropped to 1-3.
After a couple of days off, Arkansas will be back inside Bud Walton Arena on Saturday for a matchup with Lipscomb, an ASUN program that fell to 1-2 with a 67-55 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday.
Tip off is scheduled for 5 p.m. and the game will be streamed online on SEC Network-Plus.