No. 11 Arkansas hopes to see more from top recruit Nick Smith Jr. on Saturday when the Razorbacks host San Jose State in Fayetteville, Ark.
Following the game against the Spartans, the Razorbacks (6-1) still have four more non-conference contests before opening Southeastern Conference action at LSU on Dec. 28.
That’s a lot of time to work the 6-foot-5 Smith, the third-ranked prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, into the mix. The guard was held out of the first six games for precautionary reasons because of his ailing right knee.
The Jacksonville, Ark., native made his debut in a 74-61 victory over Troy on Monday. Smith went 0-for-2 from the field and grabbed one offensive rebound in six minutes, but the hope on campus is that his minutes will increase and he will be 100 percent for conference play.
“I’ve been down this situation a lot,” Arizona coach Eric Musselman said of Smith after beating Troy. “Player’s on a minutes restriction, really good player, team has played pretty well and then there’s all these dynamics you’re trying to work in. … Nick’s really anxious to play and we’re really anxious to have him.
“He probably could have waited to put on the uniform until Saturday, but he wants to be a great teammate and he wants to contribute. Game one is out of the way, which I think is a good thing. What he did tonight, it’s really, really hard.”
Saying he needed some time away, veteran Arkansas guard Devo Davis missed the game against Troy. He issued a statement Wednesday stating he was ready to return to the team and is expected to play Saturday.
Also a product of Jacksonville like Smith, Davis is averaging 8.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
San Jose State (6-2) finished its tournament in the Bahamas in dramatic fashion Sunday, getting a putback bucket and steal of the ensuing inbound pass from Robert Vaihola in the final two seconds to beat Ball State 67-65 in the fifth-place game of the Nassau Championship.
Vaihola and Omari Moore topped the squad with 15 points apiece, with the 6-foot-8 Vaihola netting 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
On a two-game winning streak, the Spartans went 2-1 in the tourney with victories over Oakland and Ball State and a loss to North Texas.
Coach Tim Miles said it was vital to play well in the event with a tough December schedule looming.
“Hopefully, we can build some confidence,” Miles said. “When you look at this, you want to gain confidence (by) beating good, solid teams. … We’ve got a big one against Arkansas, and our December slate is really important. … A lot of big, important games.”
Moore (13.4 points per contest) and Sage Tolbert III (10.3) pace the Spartans in scoring. Tolbert leads the squad with 8.0 rebounds and Moore averages a team-high 4.4 assists per game.
–Field Level Media