FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Jimmy Whitt Jr. raised both arms in the air and flashed three fingers on his left half and a zero on the right to the Arkansas bench.
Whitt’s career-best 30 points helped the Razorbacks to a 75-55 win against Vanderbilt on Wednesday night. The senior graduate transfer from SMU scored in a variety of ways that included inside dunks and a mid-range jump shot. He also attempted his first 3-pointer of the season at the end of the first half that drew iron but did not fall. It was one of his few misses on the night.
“I think scoring is more of a rhythm,” said Whitt, who hit 6 of his first 7 shot attempts. “When you can come out and hit your first couple of shots, you see it go in and you get your confidence. You sort of get into that zone early and that helped me see a couple of shots go in early.”
Whitt scored 17 points in the first half to help Arkansas (14-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) take a 34-28 halftime lead.
Vanderbilt, which has lost 23 straight SEC games, was able to hang close early in the second half. The Commodores (8-8, 0-3) trailed 37-33 after Saben Lee completed a three-point play with 17:24 left. Lee led the Commodores with 17 points, all in the second half.
Arkansas sophomore Isaiah Joe, who scored 34 points against Ole Miss on Saturday, was held scoreless in the first half. But he drained back-to-back 3-pointers to give Arkansas a 43-33 lead, and Whitt added a dunk to complete an 8-0 run and the Razorbacks were never seriously threatened the rest of the second half.
“Jimmy was just so good tonight finding open gaps against their defense,” said Arkansas first-year coach Eric Musselman. “He’s a tough matchup for the opposition. They have to decide if they want to play a taller guy on him or match him up with a guard. When a taller guy is on him, he does a great job of being able to use his quickness.”
Whitt’s scoring helped the Razorbacks overcome an off night from Mason Jones, who scored just one point. Whitt is the third Arkansas player to score 30 in a game this season, along with Joe and Jones.
Arkansas’ win likely doesn’t do much for its RPI against a struggling Vanderbilt, which is without one of the SEC’s top scorers in Aaron Nesmith, who suffered a stress fracture in his foot last week. Nesmith was averaging 23 points per game.
Arkansas got big point production off the bench as Reggie Chaney scored 14 points and had two assists. Chaney was a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor and 2-of-2 at the free-throw line.
THEY SAID IT
“I just lost the leading scorer in the SEC (Nesmith) and that was just a game ago,” Vanderbilt first-year coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We are adjusting to that a little bit, but we’re learning a lot about the rest of our roster, too. A guy that wasn’t even on our team last semester started tonight for us.” That player, freshman Braelee Albert, played 19 minutes and scored three points.
Scottie Pippen Jr., wearing bright neon yellow sneakers, scored 11 for Vanderbilt. … Whitt’s previous career high was 24 points twice this season. … Arkansas out-rebounded Vanderbilt 38-30 and forced 16 turnovers while committing just 7.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores will host Tennessee on Saturday.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks will host No. 10 Kentucky on Saturday.