FAYETTEVILLE — By an impressive 89-76 score, the Arkansas Razorbacks trumped the Evansville Purple Aces late Tuesday night at Walton Arena.
A strong Missouri Valley Conference team, paced by leading active NCAA career leading senior scoring guard D.J. Balentine and imposing senior center Egidijus Mockevicius, and with some notable wins on this season’s resume, Evansville dropped to 7-2.
Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks improved to 4-4 heading into Saturday night’s game at Walton against Tennessee Tech.
Guards Dusty Hannahs and Anthlon Bell, a combined 8 of 11 on threes, led Arkansas with 23 and 21 points.
“What a great ballgame,” Anderson said. “That’s a very good, experienced Evansville team, but defensively we really sped them up.”
Hannahs scored 16 when the Razorbacks took the game over in the first half. Both Hannahs and Bell hurt Evansville inside and out.
“Hannahs did a really good job on his curl cuts,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “He and Bell are good scorers and move well without the basketball, and they got some threes in transition.”
Hannahs hit 3 of 5 threes and was so effective driving inside he was fouled enough to be 10 for 10 on the line.
Arkansas center Moses Kingsley scored 12 with eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
Point guard Jabril Durham led Arkansas rebounders with nine and dished seven assists with nine points.
“That guy’s a winner,” Simmons said of Durham. “He plays as hard as anybody we have seen.”
Anderson said Durham played so well that he jumped him too hard for committing a turnover when the Hogs hadn’t quite put the Purple Aces away with five minutes left.
“I jumped on a guy that was close to a triple-double,” Anderson said.
Led by Hannahs off the bench, Arkansas’ reserves outscored Evansville’s bench, 42-12.
“I can’t say enough about our bench,” Anderson said. “The strongest component of our team I’ve always thought has been our bench, and tonight it was very evident that our bench played really well.”
Mockevicius, “playing his heart out,” Simmons said, led Evansville with a 22-point, 19-rebound double-double and blocked four shots.
Adam Wing scored 21 for Evansville hitting 8 of 8 from the field and 5 for 5 from the line.
Until a desperate late surge, Balentine, averaging 22.3 points, was held in check and finished with 16.
“We just made sure that we had all our pressure on him,” Bell said. “When we had to switch we made sure we switched hard so he didn’t have room to get free. We made sure that when he had the ball you had to be up close on him because he can pull up. Off the ball you really couldn’t help that much, because you know you had a good scorer on your hands.
Buried in an 11-3 hole at 14:43 of the first half, Arkansas turned the 8-point deficit to lead by a dozen, 44-32 at intermission.
Playing even bigger than his name Egidijus Mockevicius, listed 6-10 but looming over Arkansas’ Kingsley, also listed 6-10, the Evansville center greatly affected the early going.
A frustrated Kingsley jacked two outside shots trying to solve Mockevicius’ defensive inside presence.
Mockevicius dominated early inside offensively, too, but Anderson got some big first-half minutes subbing 6-10 Willy Kouassi, seven points, four blocked shots and three rebounds subbing for Kingsley.
Two Kouassi free throws achieved Arkansas’ first tie, 19-19 at 10:18.
A Hannahs three gave Arkansas its first lead, 24-22 at 8:54.
From there the Hogs never were tied again in the first half, attaining a double-digits advantage, 38-28 on Hannahs sinking both ends of a one-and-one at 2:07 after Hannahs hit a three following a rebound and assist by Trey Thompson, the Madison native and Forrest City High grad, in his first game since spraining his ankle Thanksgiving Day against Georgia Tech in Brooklyn N.Y.
“Trey got his feet wet off that ankle injury,” Anderson said. “You are going to see more of him.”