Dusty Hannahs doesn't remember ever setting foot on the court at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock. The native of Little Rock and a graduate of Pulaski Academy has been to games in the big place that's the second home of the Arkansas Razorbacks for one game per season.
“But it doesn't matter if I've played there or not,” Hannahs said Wednesday as the Hogs geared up for a 7 p.m. Saturday date with Mercer at Verizon.
“There have been a lot of places I've never been on the floor and it won't matter. The goals are all 10-foot, courts all the same. I'm just looking forward to going down there and taking care of our business.”
Oh, no one will say it's just another game, though. Hannahs stopped far short of that.
“Yes sir, we are all excited,” he said. “But we have to take a business approach. You better prepare for it the same way. We know Mercer is good and we have to be ready.”
Indeed, the Mercer Bears are 8-2. They pushed Auburn to the wire before losing a 78-71 decision Tuesday night. The Bears also lost a 77-71 decision to Davidson. The notable victory is over Tulane.
Hannahs leads the Hogs with a 18.6 scoring average, followed closely by Anthlon Bell at 16.9. It's a team that keeps finding more weapons as Moses Kingsley, Trey Thompson and Willy Kousassi have become more and more active inside.
Point guard Jabril Durham has been a spark plug, too, providing 35 defensive rebounds, second on the team with a 4.3 rebounding average. Durham has played as many as 35 minutes in a game and leads the team with 30.8 minutes per game. That number should fall with the return of sophomore Anton Beard coming off suspension for off-the-court issue in the spring. Beard will be activated for Saturday night's game.
Durham said Beard's return is welcomed with an eye towards those big minutes he's been playing.
“That's a big help,” Durham said. “It's fresh legs for us. I think you'll see that pay off for me in the second half of games. It helps your mindset going in because you know you've got someone coming to give you a rest.”
Durham expects there to be times Beard plays beside him in a three-guard lineup.
“We have practiced some where we are together and sometimes against each other,” he said. “It works either way. We played some together last year. There were times we both came off the bench together last year.
“I think we are good with each other and we also know there are times that only one of us is out there. But I like playing with him. He brings a defensive mindset. We played together lately in practice and we had the mindset of demolishing the other guys with our defense.
“It's been good for me to go against him, too. We are going to guard each other and make it tough on the other guy. He's very physical and has a dog's mentality.”
Bell has played against Beard in practice, too. He's glad the opposition is going to see some of that now that Beard is active. Does it change the mentality of the team?
“It doesn’t change anything,” Bell said. “Because Anton, he plays to win. He’s not to going to come in worry about not getting touches because he hasn’t been playing.
“Anton wants to come in and just win. That’s going to be big, another point guard coming and helping us and helping Jabril handle the ball because Jabril has been playing heavy minutes. He does other things, too, on defense. Getting down, digging for the ball, taking charges and those things.”
Bell sees Durham and Bell together, too. And, the press could be more effective with Beard to lead the pressure.
“Yeah, I can definitely see them together,” Bell said. “Two guys that can push the ball at any given moment and both of them, are going to hit the boards. So when they get the board everybody else needs to sprint down the court and try to get the easy bucket.
“Once we get more bodies we can do more of what we like to do more push the ball, pressure defense. And we are in a better rhythm now. We have people stepping up in different roles and people are realizing what role they need to do and people are starting to play at a high level.”
Durham said it's been interesting as the North Little Rock trip has approached as the Arkansas products scramble for tickets.
“There have been bribes and black mail,” Durham said. “You could see it coming. Some of those guys can't get enough tickets.”
Hannahs said he was successful in taking care of family and friends.
“I got 14,” he said. “I think I'm good now. I had to work at it.”
The Hogs have been working hard at more than finding tickets. It's clear the 5-4 team has improved of late. Durham said it's a matter of adding more pieces to the puzzle.
“We started out with a couple of guys playing at a high level, now we are getting five to seven playing at a high level,” he said. “That's the key. We are going to continue to work and get better. It's coming together.”
Most see the good outside shooting of Hannahs and Bell, but Bell said it's a matter of working on the other end of the court, too.
“These past two games we have shown that we can play on a high level on defense and push the ball on offense,” Bell said. “We knew as time went on the team was going to get closer and closer and get better chemistry because of the new parts and people stepping into new roles. We knew once the season started we we would be getting into a good rhythm.”