Arkansas played without its leading scorer Wednesday night, but it was No. 7 Duke that lacked a scoring punch.
With Tramon Mark sidelined, Arkansas pulled away from cold-shooting Duke behind Khalif Battle’s 21 points and beat the Blue Devils, 80-75, at Bud Walton Arena.
Duke (5-2) shot 35.8% overall, hitting just 6 of 22 3-pointers (27.3%) in losing to Arkansas (5-3) before a crowd of 20,344, the largest ever in the 30-year-old building’s history.
That poor shooting, Duke coach Jon Scheyer said, impacted his team’s defensive issues, particularly in the second half when Arkansas led by as many as 14 points.
“We have a lot of guys that are capable of having a big, night’s offensively and scoring,” Scheyer said. “But whether shots are going in or not, you have to be the same way all the time on that end and I thought our offense right away affected our defense.”
Mark, averaging 18.4 points per game, wasn’t in uniform as he recovers from a back injury he suffered last Friday when he fell awkwardly to the court during Arkansas’ 87-72 loss to North Carolina in the Bahamas. He was taken off the court on a stretcher and treated at a hospital before traveling back to the U.S.
But Arkansas persevered behind Battle and Trevon Brazile, who scored 19 points. Arkansas shot 49% for the game, including 60.9% in the second half.
Kyle Filipowski battled first-half foul trouble to score 26 points for the Blue Devils. But he did so while hitting just 9 of 20 shots. Jeremy Roach added 22 points for Duke.
Razorbacks’ red-hot after halftime
Duke trailed 33-32 at halftime and the Blue Devils’ deficit remained a single point, 44-43, with 13 minutes to play when Arkansas found another gear offensively to run away.
Battle scored 13 points in a few seconds more than four minutes of play as the Razorbacks lead ballooned to 14 points. A 6-5 senior guard, Battle bewildered the Blue Devils, hitting 3-pointers and drawing fouls. He hit all five of his free throw attempts during that stretch.
Duke senior guard Jeremy Roach, a team captain on a team with four returning starters, said the Blue Devils simply came out flat to start the second half.
“Give credit to Arkansas,” Roach said. “They came locked in. Their fans were into it. They punched us in the mouth.”
Battle’s 3-pointer with 8:55 to play gave Arkansas a 63-49 lead.
The Razorbacks hit 12 of their first 16 shots after halftime as Duke had no defensive answers at that point.
“The beginning of the second half was key,” Scheyer said. “We came out and just gave up a bunch of layups.”
Down double-digits, Duke went to a full-court press over the game’s final minutes and drew as close 78-75 with 17.4 seconds to play. But Arkansas held on as Duke never got to the point where it had the ball down by three or fewer points.
Zone to the rescue
With Filipowski already on the bench after picking up two fouls in the game’s first five minutes, 6-10 center Ryan Young joined him there when he picked up his third foul with 9:07 left.
Scheyer tried 7-1 sophomore center Christian Reeves in the post. But Reeves, playing his first game since a three-minute stint in Duke’s Nov. 10 loss to Arizona, failed to secure a defensive rebound, giving Arkansas a second chance. He then was out of position on defense, leading to Layden Blocker’s wide-open dunk that tied the score at 19.
Scheyer called a timeout with 8:27 left in the half, replaced Reeves with Filipowski. Arkansas built a 22-19 with 7:10 left and Scheyer had Duke switch to a zone defense. The move proved effective.
The Razorbacks scored on only two of their next eight possessions, a stretch that covered a little more than four minutes of game time.
Duke fought back and regained the lead four different times before Arkansas took a 33-32 halftime advantage.
Neither Filipowski nor Young picked up another first-half foul and Duke was in the game.
“We mixed up our defense a little bit, played some zone, played some man,” Scheyer said. “It bought us some time in the first half with Flip being out. We’re down one a half and we’re feeling pretty good. We get Flip back. “
That zone, though, wasn’t employed when Arkansas hit shot after shot in the second half to pull away. Duke’s full-court press helped narrow the margin late but not enough.
TJ Power earns trust
Scheyer gave 6-9 forward TJ Power key first-half minutes, a sign the freshman is showing enough good things in practice and in games to become part of the playing rotation.
Power hit two 3-pointers over the final seven minutes of the first half that kept Duke within a point at halftime. The hit three 3-pointers in just five minutes of play in the late stages of Duke’s 95-66 win over La Salle on Nov. 21. But he didn’t play on Nov. 24 when the Blue Devils had to use their starters until the end while rallying to beat Southern Indiana, 80-62.
As Duke looks for answers to what ails its 3-point shooting, Power could help. He finished with six points in 13 minutes against Arkansas.
This story was originally published November 29, 2023, 11:55 PM.
First appeared on www.newsobserver.com