FAYETTEVILLE — After LSU cut the University of Arkansas basketball team’s lead from 25 points to 11 with 9:18 left in Tuesday night’s game in Walton Arena, Davonte “Devo” Davis did what most of Coach Eric Musselman’s players through the years would dare not do.
Davis called a timeout.
“Oh, I definitely wouldn’t have done that,” said Razorbacks senior forward Makhi Mitchell, a transfer from Rhode Island. “Obviously, Devo is Devo. Three-year player, two Elite Eights with Coach Muss.
“So he can do that. Coach puts the trust in him. And he’s basically the head of the snake when it comes to leadership out on the floor, controlling the game.”
Arkansas pulled away to beat LSU 60-40 with an 11-1 run after Davis called his timeout.
“I was like ‘Nope, not doing it. Let’s call this timeout, get ourselves together,’” Davis said of making sure LSU didn’t draw closer than 46-35 after trailing 38-13 late in the first half. “I think we did a pretty good job.”
Davis, a 6-4 junior guard from Jacksonville, had six points in the Razorbacks’ late scoring spurt by hitting a jump shot and having two assists on dunks by Mitchell.
“Devo was probably tired, mad and knows I’m not going to call one,” Musselman said of Davis’ timeout. “So you add those together and he called it himself.”
Arkansas assistant Gus Argenal, who also was on Musselman’s coaching staff at Nevada, said twins Caleb and Cody Martin — both now playing in the NBA — had the freedom to call timeouts for the Wolf Pack.
Argenal said JD Notae and Jaylin Williams, both All-SEC players for the Razorbacks last season, also probably could call timeouts without drawing Musselman’s ire — a show of respect now afforded Davis.
“There’s a trust with Coach and Devo, I think, with the years that they’ve had together,” Argenal said. “With the career he’s had, he’s earned that trust.
“I think Devo has a great pulse on our team, and has a great connection with Coach Muss and the staff.”
Davis, the only Razorback who has been with Musselman for three seasons on teams that are a combined 67-22 with back-to-back NCAA Tournament Elite Eight appearances, is playing the best of his career on both ends of the court.
Along with being an elite defender who Musselman assigns to the opponent’s top perimeter player and a tenacious rebounder, Davis is averaging 16.6 points and shooting 50% on three-pointers (10 of 20) the previous five games and 47.8% (32 of 67) overall.
“The biggest thing — and my wife [Danyelle] said it — his shot selection has been unbelievable,” Musselman said.
Davis also has averaged 6.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 38.2 minutes over the last five games.
“He’s playing fabulous,” Musselman said. “Defensively, it’s every single night. It’s another level defensively, and now offensively he’s doing the same exact thing.
“It’s really cool to see growth in his game. As a leader and offensively and defensively he keeps getting better. I don’t know how that’s possible, but he keeps doing it.”
Missouri senior guard D’Moi Hodge, averaging 14.5 points, combined for 13 in two games against Davis and shot 3 of 11 from the field.
Brandon Miller, Alabama’s 6-9 freshman forward averaging an SEC-leading 19.5 points, scored 14 with Davis as his primary defender.
“I love Devo’s defense,” Mitchell said. “It gets me going. It gets the team going.”
Davis held Ole Miss junior guard Matthew Murrell, averaging 15.6 points, to 3 on 1 of 5 shooting in 24 minutes before he suffered a leg injury with 14:13 left and didn’t return.
“Our game plan was Devo Davis,” Arkansas freshman forward Jordan Walsh said of shutting down Murrell. “He locked him up. It was his job.
“We weren’t switching. We were like, ‘Hey Vo, don’t give him nothing.’”
LSU junior guard Adam Miller, averaging 11.1 points, was held by 9 by Davis and shot 2 of 10 from the field.
“It’s like every single night he’s taking a star player and not doing a good job, but doing a phenomenal job from a defensive standpoint,” Musselman said, pounding a table for emphasis. “I cannot talk enough about his defense.
“Even these games where we haven’t won, I can go on and on about how he has defended at an incredible elite level.”
Davis, speaking Monday night on Musselman’s radio show, said he studies lots of film of the players he’s going to guard and knows their favorite moves and tendencies.
“Guarding the opposing team’s best player, it’s not easy,” Davis said. “It’s hard work and you’ve got to be dedicated to doing it.
“Putting yourself in position to want to guard somebody on the other team that’s really good, not everyone can do it.”
After Arkansas (14-6, 3-5 SEC) lost four consecutive games, Davis has been a key in the Razorbacks bouncing back by beating Ole Miss 69-57 at home and avenging a loss to LSU in the conference opener.
Davis had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists against the Rebels and 16, 7 and 3 against LSU.
He shot a combined 13 of 19 from the field in the two games, including 5 of 7 on three-pointers.
“Devo’s playing how we expect him to play — and a little better,” Arkansas freshman point guard Anthony Black said. “Knocking down shots, commanding the offense most of the time, being a leader.
“Just being Devo, playing with a lot of energy. And of course on defense just taking their best player out of the game every time and making them look like they don’t usually look.”
The Arkansas-Ole Miss game had an 11 a.m. tipoff and Musselman said that when he arrived at the Razorbacks’ practice facility about 7 a.m., Davis already was shooting.
“His work ethic has been extremely consistent on a daily basis on his own, and I think he’s really focused,” Musselman said.
“He’s a guy that the steady approach of getting his work in on his own has been really impressive. And we need him to continue to play really well on both ends.”
Davis, averaging 10.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 32.3 minutes on the season, said he usually has two shooting workouts each day — even on a game day — then gets up more shots in warmups.
“I think the more I work out, the better I play,” Davis said. “So I’m going to continue to work out as much as possible.
“As long as I work out and continue to keep my body healthy and eat the right things and continue to do rehab on myself, I think everything else will play out really well.”
Musselman said Davis has become a more vocal leader in recent games, especially against LSU.
“I think the players have been waiting for some internal leadership instead of it being the coaching staff,” Musselman said.
“I think Devo’s turned the corner on that. [Tuesday night] was by far the most vocal I’ve seen him in huddles.”
When Davis feels the need for a timeout, he’ll also speak up as he proved against LSU.