FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of North Texas' production of "Hamlet" closed Saturday evening at Walton Arena with its hero upstaged.
No poignant pondering "to be or not to be."
'Twas entirely not to be for this Hamlet. Though cast in Mean Green, the UNT's Hamlet dramatically diminished to olive drab, reduced by the Razorbacks in their 69-54 victory from prime protagonist to bystander.
The Mean Green's leading man as the 2019-2020 Conference USA Player of the Year starring for Conference USA's championship team, point guard Javion Hamlet last season averaged 14.6 points per game. The current UNT senior would have averaged more as a junior but for fitting Coach Grant McCasland's methodically effective milk the clock game plans.
With Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman rewriting Saturday's script, Razorbacks guard Jalen Tate reduced Hamlet to a mere five points. Hamlet took but four shots Saturday while it seemed 7-3 Razorbacks center Connor Vanover loomed large enough to take on the Mean Green's other four by himself. Vanover blocked six shots and grabbed 16 rebounds as the Mean Green's offense funneled into him. Tate, the 6-6, long-armed via Northern Kentucky University grad transfer, did much of the funneling constantly compelling Hamlet seeking options other than his own shots.
"We kind of assign a star to cut off the snake's head so to speak," Musselman said. "We wanted him (Hamlet) to have got give the ball up in the backcourt and not the front court. I thought we did a great job of limiting his touches. He (Hamlet) is the the Player of the Year returning in their conference and for us to hold him to 1 of 4 - that's what Jalen Tate does. Obviously with his length he was a great defender at Northern Kentucky. I thought Tate's defense on Hamlet was phenomenal."
As was Vanover as his "goalie," Musselman said, of the center swatting away or with 14 defensive boards rebounding what Hamlet hoped in vain his Mean Green teammates could finish.
The 2-0 Razorbacks, Musselman said, seemed a vastly different team during the 34 minutes that Vanover played in his first Arkansas start Saturday vs. the mere six minutes that he rested.
"It was really, really hard to take Connor off the floor tonight," Musselman said. "I thought he was that dominant for us that it was just too hard to get him off the floor."
Those two pieces that Arkansas didn't have last season, Vanover had to redshirt in 2019-2020 transferring as a sophomore from the University of California while Tate still toiled for NKU, impacted immensely Saturday even while combining for just eight points. They combined to score 35 in last Wednesday's 142-62 romp over hapless Mississippi Valley State. Vanover scoring a game-leading 23 Wednesday dropped to six on Saturday. Tate dropped from Wednesday's 12 to Saturday's two.
Musselman gladly swapped their offense vs. Mississippi Valley State for their defense against North Texas.
"I think you've just got to win in different ways," Musselman said.