FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas Razorbacks can give themselves a Christmas present tonight at Walton Arena in Fayetteville if they repeat what they achieved last Saturday night at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.
The Razorbacks, 8-2 of the SEC, host the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, 4-9 of the Summit League, in tonight’s 7 o’clock game at Walton broadcast on the Razorbacks’ radio network and Internet video available on SEC+.
Immediately after tonight’s game, Coach Mike Anderson is allowing his Razorbacks time to go home for their Christmas break which actually has them reporting Christmas Eve back to Fayetteville since they host California-Bakersfield, Dec. 27 at Walton then on Dec. 30 open their SEC season at Walton hosting Tennessee.
With just a brief workout Sunday afternoon at Walton after getting back late from Saturday night’s 88-63 victory over Troy in North Little Rock, Anderson said he scheduled the Hogs through a hard workout Monday “just trying to make sure our guys are still intact here. Just want to make sure they haven’t checked out.”
The Tulsa-based Golden Eagles of first-year Coach Paul Mills, an ex-Baylor assistant under Coach Scott Drew whom Anderson coached against when he coached Missouri in the Big 12, are only 4-9 but successively have beaten Missouri State, 73-66 in Tulsa and last Saturday at Fort Myers, Fla. routed Florida Gulf Coast University, 83-64.
“It’s going to be big for our guys because we are going to be playing against an Oral Roberts team that the last couple of outings they beat Missouri State and then of course they just beat Florida Gulf Coast,” Anderson said. “Had them down almost 20 points in the first half. It’s a team that caught my attention. First year coach in Coach Mills but he’s doing a very good job. He was at Baylor for quite awhile so I’m very familiar with him.”
Anderson said Mills coached big men at Baylor and coaches some big Golden Eagles, too.
“It’s a team with size,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to make sure that we continue to emphasize rebounding the basketball.”
Albert Owens, a 6-9 senior who has started 11 games and came off the bench against Florida Gulf Coast, leads ORU in scoring averaging 14.0 points per game with 4.8 rebounds. Sophomore Emmanuel Nzekwesi, 6-8, though apparently not a 3-point threat hitting but 4 of 28, is an inside menace averaging 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds. Javan White, 6–10, leads ORU in rebounding, 8.2, and averages 11.6 points.
“He’s had maybe three or four double-doubles,” Anderson said.
Guard Sam Kearns, 10.2 scoring average, is ORU’s most prolific 3-point shooter, 27 of 69.
Reserve ORU guard Spencer Sutton is the nephew of longtime now former ORU Coach Scott Sutton recently become an assistant at Oklahoma State, and son of former ORU assistant Sean Sutton, now on staff at Texas Tech.
Since a turnover-laden, poor defensive effort in 91-65 loss to the Houston Cougars, Dec. 2 in Houston, the Razorbacks have turned up the defensive pressure and picked up the offensive pace while committing but five, nine and six turnovers in 92-66, 95-79 and 88-63 home victories over Colorado State, Minnesota and Troy.
Starting three senior guards, Daryl Macon, named Monday as SEC Player of the Week after scoring 25 points with five assists and no turnovers against Troy, Jaylen Barford and North Little Rock grad Anton Beard and often playing “tremendous passer” big man and Forrest City High grad Trey Thompson off the bench plus the 6-11 inside presence of talented freshman Daniel Gafford of El Dorado has made this a team that “values the basketball,” Anderson said.
“I think they are making the right pass and the right guys are taking the shots,” Anderson said. “I credit also with our defense because if you look at the assists we are getting, a lot of those are in transition or we throw it inside and I think Daniel is making pretty good decisions with the basketball. So I think it’s a team that’s valuing the basketball.”
Trey Thompson tonight wears a SEC graduate patch having received a UA degree in sports management last Saturday after just three and a half years.
Anderson also said Willy Kouassi, who helped Anderson’s shorthanded 2015-2016 Razorbacks as a 6-11 graduate transfer from Kennesaw State and then played professionally overseas, returned to his studies in Fayetteville and last Saturday achieved his UA masters degree in operations management.