Just when the University of Arkansas basketball has been having a little trouble defending 3-point shooters, an undefeated band of sharpshooters is headed to town.
Missouri State (6-0) will visit Arkansas (6-2) on Thursday night and bring a team that is shooting an sizzling 50 percent from the 3-point line and averaging a whopping 92 points per game.
"This team coming up, their 3-point shooters are legit," Razorback head coach Stan Heath said. "They are one of the best teams in the country at shooting it. They have four guys on the floor at all times that can shoot it."
Chief among those is 6-2 junior guard Blake Ahearn, who is averaging 21.2 points, has made 25 3-pointers in his three games and is hooting 55 percent overall from the floor and 52 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
"Blake Ahearn is as good a shooter as I have seen in college basketball outside of a J.J. Reddick (of Duke)," Heath said. "He is right up there with (Tennessee's) Chris Lofton in our league. He is a guy that we have got to play close attention to."
Arkansas, which expects to have all hands on deck since 6-10 center Darian Townes is healing, gave up a total of 20 3-pointers in narrow home wins over Missouri and Texas State before breaking for finals.
"That three-point shot as we saw in our last two games is probably what I would call the great equalizer in college basketball, " Heath said. "The last two teams that we faced when I went into the game I thought it was their weakness...Part of me thinks we need to clean up some things and part of me thinks it was some good fortune on their part."
Missouri State, who boasts road wins at Arkansas State (97-80) and at ORU (88-76), has four home wins over Northern Illinois (87-51), Georgia Southern (105-55), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (95-75) and Detroit (85-71), which came last Saturday.
In addition to Ahearn, Missouri State is getting double-digit scoring from 6-5 junior guard Tyler Chaney (13.,2), 6-0 senior guard Deke Thompson (11.0) and off the bench 6-7 junior forward Kellen Easley (10.2) off the bench and 6-5 forward Dale Lamberth (10.2).
The team formerly known as Southwest Missiouri State, also get significant contributions from 6-10, 255-pound sophomore starting center Sky Frazier (9.7) and 6-6 junior starting forward Nathan Bilyeu (9.3).
"They have proven that can score in a lot of different ways," Heath said. "They are good in transition, they score really quickly, they move the ball very well to each other on the court and they really try to spread you out. Our defense is going to be very challenged in this game."
Missouri State is a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, which has already has some big wins this season with Indiana State topping Indiana and Northern Iowa downing Iowa.
Wichita State, another MVC member, barely missed knocking off Illinois.
"I really believe Missouri State is an NCAA Tournament team," Heath said. "I think the league that they play in is very underrated."
Arkansas will certainly be better with Townes, the Razorbacks' third-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game and it's leading rebounder at a 5.8 clip, able to play.
There was some question about that after he injured himself in the win over Missouri State.
"He has a little of a sore knee, but he is much improved," Heath said. "We were concerned, got an MRI done and things came back pretty positive. He is still going to have some swelling and soreness throughout the year and is just going to have to deal with it."
Arkansas is just getting through its final exams.
"Two -thirds of the team done with exams with four of five guys that have one exam or a paper to turn in," Heath said, "We are getting in some intense practice now."
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