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Arkansas aiming to extend winning streak at Mississippi

by Bob Holt | January 26, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE — Au’Diese Toney scored lots of points and grabbed lots of rebounds at Pittsburgh. He had his share of assists and steals, too.

What Toney didn’t get to enjoy with the Panthers were a lot of victories.

Pittsburgh didn’t have a winning record in any of Toney’s three seasons, in which he averaged 9.7 and 5.4 rebounds and had 88 assists and 80 steals in 79 games,

The Panthers were 40-48, including 15-39 in the ACC.

Toney, a 6-6 senior who can play guard or forward, finally is getting to play for a winning team after transferring to the University of Arkansas.

The Razorbacks (14-5, 4-3 SEC) take a four-game winning streak into their matchup at Ole Miss tonight.

It’s the longest conference winning streak Toney ever has experienced.

Pittsburgh’s longest ACC winning streak when he played for the Panthers was two games.

“Yeah, we didn’t have too much success at my last school,” Toney said. “But it just taught me a lot.

“It takes a lot to win, and it’s hard to win at a high level.”

Toney, from Huntsville, Ala., traded in the ACC for the SEC when he decided in April to transfer to Arkansas.

The Razorbacks finished 25-7 last season and reached the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for the first time since 1995.

“Coming here, it was the best decision,” Toney said. “Just seeing how they did last year and how the players gelled together to get to that point at the end of the year.

“It just made my decision where I wanted to come here and be a part of that family.”

The Razorbacks started this season 9-0 and were ranked as high as No. 10 in The Associated Press poll.

Arkansas then hit a tough stretch and lost five of six games, including its first 0-3 start in SEC play since 2009.

The Razorbacks began their recovery with an 87-43 victory over Missouri in Walton Arena in which Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman went with a bigger lineup that moved Toney from playing power or small forward to shooting guard.

Arkansas followed the Missouri mauling by handing LSU its only home loss this season, 65-58, and coming back home to beat South Carolina 75-59 and Texas A&M 76-73 in overtime.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Toney said. “But now we’re starting to click like we were at the beginning of the year.

“It’s lovely to be on a winning team like this.”

Toney was limited to 2 points and 2 rebounds in 20 minutes against Missouri, but he averaged 12.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 35.0 minutes against LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M.

“Making a move where Au’Diese Toney is now one of the biggest, longest off-guards of any starting lineup across the country, that helps us,” Musselman said.

Toney is quicker and faster than many of the forwards he has played against and bigger and stronger than opposing guards.

“He’s got a natural mismatch on a nightly basis,” Musselman said.

Toney likes his new role.

“It feels good, just being able to take advantage of smaller guards,” he said. “Just more opportunities to attack downhill and find the spots.”

Playing on the perimeter at Pittsburgh, Toney hit 57 of 109 three-pointers (30.2%).

Toney has hit 5 of 11 three-pointers (45.5%) and is shooting 58.2% from the field (71 of 122) and 75.9% on free throws (60 of 79) for Arkansas while being utilized more on the inside.

All of Toney’s percentages are career highs. He’s averaging 10.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 29.7 minutes. He leads the Razorbacks with 48 offensive rebounds, which has helped him get put-backs and draw fouls.

“I think Au’Diese is really happy with being here,” Musselman said. “Happy both on the floor and off the floor. Because I’ve asked him, I’ve asked his mom.

“I think he feels a great deal of comfort playing in this system. And I think he’s comfortable with how we have expectations from a development standpoint as well. I think he’s a guy that wants to continue to get better.

“He’s such a vital piece to what we want to do on both sides of the ball.”

Arkansas’ coaching staff recruited Toney with the idea he wouldn’t be tied to a particular position.

“Really they were just saying you can look at anybody on the floor,” Toney said. “Because you could end up being at any position on the floor during the game or throughout the season.”

Toney had some big games in ACC play for Pitt, including scoring a career-high 27 points against Duke and 24 against North Carolina State as a sophomore. Last season he had 22 points against Duke, 18 against Syracuse and 17 against North Carolina State in what turned out to be his final game with the Panthers.

Toney will see some familiar ACC foes against Ole Miss with sophomore forward Jaemyn Brakefield, a transfer from Duke, and senior center Nysier Brooks, a transfer from Miami.

After Pittsburgh’s game against North Carolina State last season, Toney announced he was entering the transfer portal. He averaged 14.4 points and 5.9 rebounds in 16 games as a junior.

Panthers Coach Jeff Capel told Pittsburgh media Toney had sustained a concussion and might not have played the rest of the season.

Pittsburgh again is suffering through a losing season at 7-12 overall and 2-6 in the ACC.

“I think winning is really important to Au’Diese,” Musselman said. “He put up good numbers at Pitt, but the numbers become a little bit hollow if you’re not winning basketball games.”

Now Toney still has nice numbers, and a winning record to go along with them.


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