FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman was looking for his team to flip the script on the glass Friday night against Southwestern Oklahoma State in the final exhibition game, but he likely didn’t envision the Hogs winning by 27 points with his leading scorer failing to scratch.
The Razorbacks were plus-23 rebounding, and junior wing Mason Jones capped his best week of practice by starting & putting up a game-high 22 points to pick up the slack for the scoreless Isaiah Joe as Arkansas won convincingly, 78-51, on Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena to close out the preseason 2-0 in exhibition games.
“Two fairly good exhibition games and now we’ve got nine practices to get ready for the home opener,” Musselman said. “I think both exhibition games will give us time behind closed doors to continue to clean up some of the areas that we need to clean up. We won tonight’s game without shooting the 3-ball very well.”
“I thought Mason had a really big bounce back game and Adrio (Bailey) played nearly flawless basketball. Same things we’ve been talking about a lot: We’ve got to continue taking care of the basketball. I think that’s the biggest thing. I think from a rebounding standpoint tonight, even though the opponent was not a tall team, I thought we did a really, really good job of defensive rebounding holding them to just four offensive rebounds. I thought our defensive rebounding was really good tonight.”
Following his team’s 79-64 exhibition win over Little Rock on Sunday, Musselman said on Thursday that playing the NCAA Division II Bulldogs would offer a chance for him to consider different lineups and personnel combinations while ramping up momentum before the season-opener against Rice in less than two weeks.
He rewarded Jones with a start and the 6-5 wing fron DeSoto, TX, responded with 8-of-12 field goal shooting (including 4-of-7 from 3) and 2-of-3 from the free throw line for his 22 points, but he also chipped in 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals in his 29 minutes on the court.
“I thought he had a great two or three or four practices where he was really, really focused and played extremely hard in practice and had an incredible approach to practice and he earned a start tonight,” Musselman said of Jones, who struggled with foul trouble against Little Rock and finished with only 4 points in 20 minutes. “I thought he carried his work ethic and his focus from the last four practices onto the court tonight. I thought he was really, really good. I thought he was really efficient. I thought he played unselfish. “
“He’s obviously a big-time offensive weapon with his ability to make the three and he can play off the bounce, as well.”
Jones felt he owed himself and others a strong performance.
“Yes, I felt like I had to better respond than I did in the first game,” Jones said. “Coach told me that a lot of people were disappointed in my performance against Little Rock. I kind of took that personal, knowing that a lot of people thought I was inconsistent so I wanted to go a little hard. They have been on me harder so I know I have got to respond.”
“It felt kind of good knowing that Coach Musselman was growing that trust back in me and was moving me back into the starting line up,. In practice, I was really struggling, not knowing who I was. But my teammates being there for me and always pushing me in practice and the coaches telling me they loved me and stuff like that meant a lot to me.”
Meanwhile, Joe — coming off a game-high 25-points on 8-of-17 shooting from 3 in the win over Little Rock — went 0-of-5 from the field (including 0-of-4 from 3) in 18 minutes, although he did contribute 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
“Defensively, they did a good job of crowding Isaiah and they chased him really hard off screens,” Musselman said. “The good thing is I don’t think Isaiah took a bad shot. I thought he let the game kind of come to him. He let his teammates do offensive damage … A lot of times he drew two defenders and sometimes you see guys try to shoot through the double-teams and they get a little antsy, but I thought he did a great job of saying, ‘Alright, well the game’s going to turn into a 3-on-4 game if two defenders are focused on me.”
“That’s what you want from an unselfish scorer. So he kind of spaced the floor out at times and let some of his teammates take advantage of the numbers that were focused on him.”
Senior forward Adrio Bailey closed out a strong preseason with 15 points (7-of-7 field goals and 1-of-2 free throws), 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, and 1 block in 17 minutes. In two preseason games, Bailey averaged 11.5 points (on a perfect 9-of-9 field goals plus 4-of-5 free throws) and 4.0 rebounds while playing his role on offense and being smartly aggressive and disruptive on defense.
Sophomore combo guard Desi Sills started and played a game-high 36 minutes, finishing with 10 points, a game-high 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and a nasty block in transition. Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr. started and had 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist in 16 minutes.
Sophomore forward Reggie Chaney played 22 minutes off the bench and contributed 12 points (on 4-of-6 field goals and 4-of-4 free throws), 9 rebounds, and 2 steals.
“I think Adrio, his role is defined,” Musselman said. “I think he knows what we want from him. He’s been really good hitting the offensive glass. He’s done a great job of dribble-handoffs when he’s the trail big. He’s a good passer for us out there. Then I think defensively, understanding out game plan. He’s got the ability to switch on pick-and-rolls.”
“I think he’s kind of embraced his role and he’s had really, really good shot selection. I think that’s the biggest key, just how much his shot selection has improved in the last six months. Understanding good shot and what’s a good shot for him.”
After losing the rebounding battle against Little Rock (42-37) on Sunday, the smallish Hogs actually enjoyed a slight size advantage against the Bulldogs and dominated the glass, 49-26.
Turnovers and fouling were another story. Musselman had hoped his team would improve on the 18 miscues and fouls (26 that led to 30 free throw attempts) suffered against Little Rock, but once again Arkansas’s giveaways totaled 18 and its 23 fouls led to 24 free throw attempts for SWOSU.
“I don’t think it’s anything new, the turnovers,” Musselman said. “I’ve watched a lot of film in the offseason. All we can do is just keep talking about it, understanding just to get a shot on goal. I’d rather take a bad shot than turn the basketball over. We’ll keep working on it. We’ll come up with some gimmicks, some techniques over the next few days and see if it works.”
Forward Jaylan Williams (12 points) and guard Damion Thornton (13 points) paced the Bulldogs. Guard Braylan James of Jacksonville chipped in 8 points.
Arkansas used a 9-0 run for a 31-16 lead, then Jones capped a 13-point first half with a driving runner off the window to beat the horn for a 40-27 Arkansas advantage at the break.
The Hogs strung together an 18-5 second-half spurt to effectively put the game away, 70-40, with 7:27 remaining.
The Razorbacks — winners of their last 32 exhibition games — have now beaten SWOSU twice in preseason games covering the past five Years. The teams last played on Nov. 5, 2015, when the Hogs rolled to a 103-58 exhibition route at BWA in what was the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Next up, Arkansas will host its season-opener against old Southwest Conference foe Rice on Tuesday, Nov. 5, which is opneing day in college basketball. The game is set for a 7 p.m. CT tip-off and will be available to watch via live-stream on SEC Network Plus.
The Hogs have defeated the Owls 102 times, marking the second-most wins against a single opponent in school history.