Moving ON up! Arkansas beats Illinois in NCAA Tournament
When Arkansas lost Nick Smith Jr. for a bulk of SEC play, it was Devo Davis who stepped into a primary scoring role. When Smith returned in the middle of February, Davis gave the mantle back.
When Smith was largely ineffective against Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, Davis slipped back into the point-scoring role like he’d never left.
The Arkansas junior guard scored 16 points, including a 3-pointer that felt like a nail in the Illini’s coffin with just over five minutes left, as the eighth-seeded Razorbacks advanced to a Round of 32 game against No. 1-seed Kansas on Sunday with a 73-63 over Illinois.
Davis scored 10 in the second half as Smith went cold, finishing just 2 of 10 from the field. Davis, who coach Eric Musselman called maybe the best on-ball defender in the nation, was a huge help there, too. Illinois’ Matthew Mayer scored just two points on 0 for 6 shooting. Mayer had played a large role in Baylor’s win over Arkansas in the Elite Eight two years ago when Davis was a freshman.
Arkansas led by as many as 17 in the second half. But Illinois went on an 8-0 run midway through it that cut Arkansa’s lead to nine points, forcing Musselman to call a timeout just ahead of the media’s near the eight-minute mark.
Davis’ 3-pointer a couple minutes later lifted the lead back to double figures. By the time it was nine again, the final media timeout had sounded and too little time was left for an Illinois comeback.
Anthony Black and Ricky Council joined Davis in double figures with 18 and 12, respectively. Council scored 11 of his from the free-throw line, where he went 11 of 12. Terrence Shannon Jr. led the Fighting Illini with 20. As a team, Illinois shot just 38% from the field.