FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Desi Sills and Jimmy Whitt combined for 41 points as Arkansas overcame the absence of its leading scorer Saturday to hold off Northern Kentucky and stay undefeated with a 66-60 victory.
The Norse trimmed a 10-point Arkansas lead to two in the final 30 seconds but Adham Eleeda’s potential go-ahead 3-pointer rimmed out with 14 seconds left and the Razorbacks (7-0) sealed the game from the free-throw line.
"It’s the first game we didn’t come out from the onset and put our imprint on the game. I thought we played too casual to start the game," Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. "Having said all that, we’re 7-0 and we’re happy about that."
Sills finished with 17, one shy of his career best. His up-and-under finish with 2:22 left in the first half gave Arkansas its first real lead of the game, other than a 2-0 start, and his three swished free throws with 9:40 left put the Razorbacks up by double digits for the first time.
Arkansas went on a 10-0 run to end the half as the Norse went the final 4:17 without a point. Another 7-0 Arkansas run in the middle of the second half was the only other sustained Razorbacks stretch, allowing Northern Kentucky to pull back to within a possession.
The Norse (5-3) kept the game close, thanks in large part to their 3-point shooting. Entering the game, no team had made more than three 3-pointers against Arkansas. Dantez Walton hit three of Northern Kentucky’s five in the first half and the visitors finished 8 of 24 from long range, well ahead of Arkansas’ Division-I leading 14 percent 3-point defense.
The most important one just didn’t fall.
“We couldn’t have executed that any better,” Northern Kentucky coach Darrin Horn said. “We just didn’t make the shot. I actually thought it was going in, but it rimmed in and out.”
Mason Jones, whose 18.1 points per game leads Arkansas, did not play. Jones was nursing a back injury and is out indefinitely, Musselman said.
Whitt’s 24 points tied a season high and Walton led all scorers with 30.
Northern Kentucky: Arkansas is the only power-conference team on Northern Kentucky’s schedule this year, but the Norse represented themselves well. Continued play like Saturday could see them in good position to defend their Horizon League title.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ 7-0 start is their best since the 1997-98 season when they began the year with eight straight wins. That team was beaten in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by eventual national runner-up Utah.
Arkansas defensive lineman Jamario Bell joined the basketball team for his first collegiate game after finishing his football career Friday in Arkansas’ 24-14 loss to Missouri. Musselman announced before the game Bell, who was second on the football in sacks with 4 1/2, would play the season with the team as a walk-on. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound senior helped Junction City to two Class 2A state titles, was named as USA Today’ second-team All-Arkansas and once shattered a backboard when he was in high school.
Northern Kentucky: The Norse travel to Ohio to play Mid-American Conference’s Miami (Ohio) on Tuesday. Northern Kentucky has one win against a MAC foe, Ball State, already this year.
Arkansas: Austin Peay visits Fayetteville on Tuesday. It will be the teams’ third meeting in four years and fifth all-time. The Razorbacks won last year’s game 76-65.
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