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Lykes embracing role as sixth man

by Bob Holt | November 28, 2021 at 2:46 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas guard JD Notae doesn't figure to repeat as SEC Sixth Man of the Year, but a Razorback might win it again.

After Notae averaged 12.8 points in 22.5 minutes last season when he came off the bench in 31 of 32 games and was voted the SEC's top sixth man by conference coaches, the 6-2 senior is thriving as a starter.

Notae is averaging 17.8 points, 3.4 steals and 3.2 assists in 36.2 minutes for the No. 13 Razorbacks (5-0) going into their game against Penn (3-5) at 3 p.m. today in Walton Arena.

With Notae entrenched as a starter, newcomer Chris Lykes has become Arkansas' sixth man.

Lykes, a 5-7 senior graduate transfer from Miami, is averaging 15.2 points in 26.4 minutes off the bench.

"I really like Chris coming off the bench," Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. "I really liked JD coming off the bench.

"As a coach, I like to look down there on the bench and feel like we have some pop. Last year, I felt like if we got down, that JD could come in and change the complexion of the game. I feel the same way about Chris."

Notae said he enjoys being a starter, but he also understands what Lykes is feeling.

"It's nice to be out there when the ball is tipped off," Notae said. "But Chris is doing a phenomenal job whenever his name is called. Last year I knew how hard that role is, but you've just got to embrace it.

"Knowing you could be a starter on this team, you've got to accept that role knowing Coach Muss is going to put you in the best position to be successful. And I think Chris has accepted that very well."

Lykes started 68 of 97 games at Miami, including 58 of 60 the previous three years until he was limited to the first two games last season after he suffered an ankle injury on Dec. 4 in the Hurricanes' 82-60 victory over Stetson.

As a freshman, Lykes had 10 starts in 32 games and averaged 9.6 points in 21.6 minutes.

"It kind of takes me back to my freshman year," Lyles said of his play with the Razorbacks. "My freshman year we were really talented at Miami and my role was to come off the bench and bring energy. I was the spark plug.

"That's what it feels like, although I do play a lot of minutes if I'm playing well. So I just try to embrace the moment and produce when I'm out there. My teammates, it's fun playing with those guys."

Lykes has been especially effective drawing fouls and hitting free throws late in games to help Arkansas hang onto a lead.

When the Razorbacks beat Northern Iowa 93-80, Lykes hit 6 of 6 free throws in the final 1:03 during a 16-3 run and led Arkansas with 26 points.

In Arkansas' victories over Kansas State 72-64 and Cincinnati 73-67 to win the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo., Lykes combined to hit 18 of 20 free throws.

Lykes scored 14 points against Kansas State and in the final 1:46 hit 10 of 10 free throws.

"At the end, we just said, 'Double-team him and make somebody else bring it up,' " Wildcats Coach Bruce Weber said. "But that's easier said than done. He's very, very quick.

"He was the one that had the ball and you have to give him credit. We put a lot of pressure on him and put him in some tough situations and he was able to keep his poise. We had no choice but to foul him."

Against Cincinnati, Lykes scored 15 points and hit 8 of 10 free throws, including 4 of 4 in the final 21.8 seconds.

Lykes said as an experienced guard, it's his responsibility to handle the ball and hit clutch free throws.

For his career, Lykes has hit 284 of 362 free throws (78.5%), including 31 of 37 this season.

"I try not to think too much," Lykes said on Arkansas' postgame radio show following the Kansas State game. "It's a routine that I've been practicing since I was seven years old.

"Just get up there and focus on making a shot. I know if we need those as a point guard, you've got to knock them down in late-game situations. So just get up there with confidence and drain them."

Musselman said Lykes has been receptive to taking over for Notae as the Razorbacks' sixth man.

"He's had a great attitude about it," Musselman said. "We've talked about it, and I think he's become comfortable in it.

"Every player wants to start, but we have not gotten any resistance from Chris whatsoever. And quite frankly, wherever he plays next year, he's probably going to come off the bench. So it's not bad to learn that role."

Lykes said he's adjusted.

"It gives you a different type of vibe coming off the bench," Lykes said. "You're able to see the pace of the game and evaluate how you're going to play.

"So I don't mind coming off the bench at all. I just try and bring energy when I get out there."

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