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Hogs take care of Colgate after nerve-wracking start for fans

Hogs survive and advance using a scrambling, aggressive defense and some adjustments by Eric Musselman with Justin Smith responding big.

It’s okay if you want to admit you were squirming more than a little when Arkansas started Friday’s game with Colgate by getting down 14 points in the first half.

For a fan base that has a segment that’s not really stable to begin with, there probably was a good deal of hand-wringing, nail-biting or hair-pulling going on.

The Razorbacks put on a 17-0 run to end up with a surprising lead at halftime and kept pulling away for an 85-68 win.

Eric Musselman chalked it up to young guys figuring it out.

“Maybe our inexperience in the tournament showed the first 10 minutes of the game,” he said later. “Then we got a little bit settled in, maybe after the nerves of that first 10 minutes.”

As the commentator said on TV, they did it in a way Nolan Richardson was probably sitting on his couch nodding his head at the scrambling and aggressive defense.

“Our defense was incredible,” he said.

The Hogs went to some full-court pressure and, just like in the last deep tournament run the program had, offense fed off that defensive pressure.

And Musselman talked with his son — assistant coach Michael Musselman — about using it the night before.

“We were going to unleash (the full-court pressure),” Musselman said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be in the second half or if it was going to be in the first half, when it might be, but we were going to do that.”

They were able to do it by moving Justin Smith to the center position.

“My son was in my room last night, and we talked about potentially having to play Justin at some five,” Musselman said. “I hadn’t addressed that with the team much, but Michael and I had discussed it. I thought maybe that would help us speed the game up, and I thought Justin could protect the rim against their bigs.”

A little preparation goes a long way. Smith had a game not seen in the tournament for the Hogs since Corliss Williamson in 1994, scoring 29 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and getting five steals just for good measure.

“I just thought the combination of strength, speed, athleticism would be a lot for their front line to handle,” Musselman said. “I mean, I knew if we went to that, that it might hurt us a little bit on the glass, which it did. We didn’t win the rebounding battle.”

Against Texas Tech on Sunday something else will happen.

“The next game’s going to have a different complexion,” Musselman said. “Somebody else is going to have to step up. We’ll probably have to play bigger than we did tonight.”

Unless you just have a dominating roster, it’s hard to use the same plan every game in the tournament. Everybody’s good just to be in the tournament.

“That’s what this game called for,” Musselman said. “It’s really hard to advance in this tournament against anybody.”

Ask Ohio State. They were upset in overtime by Oral Roberts. Or Florida. They had an overtime nail-biter with Virginia Tech.

The Hogs weren’t celebrating much after the win, either. That’s a good sign, by the way.

“There was none,” Musselman said about celebrating. “When I walked in and asked if they were happy and all right, they said, ‘coach, we were supposed to win,’ which is the mindset that you want your basketball team to have.”

It doesn’t get easier, which is why this may be the hardest championship to win, in my opinion, because you have to play people that are playing at a title-winning level in March that didn’t look like they would win a conference game in November.

“We know that this next game is going to be even more of a challenge,” Musselman said.

Considering how good Chris Beard’s teams have been at Texas Tech that might be an understatement.

We don’t know what time that game will be … at least when this is being written.

But the guess is you don’t want to miss it.

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