FAYETTEVILLE — Nobody likes a loss, but the Arkansas Razorbacks used last week’s overtime road stumble to reboot as junior guard Mason Jones fueled the Hogs’s best offensive performance of the season with a career-high 41 points on Saturday in a clicking-on-all-cylinders 98-79 dismantling of Tulsa on Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena in front of 15,589 fans.
The Hogs (9-1) — outscored 22-9 in the final 6 minutes last Saturday in an 86-79 OT loss at Western Kentucky — controlled the action at both ends from the outset against the Golden Hurricane (8-3), building a 16-point lead in the first 8 minutes of the game and grabbing a 22-point lead with just over 6 minutes remaining in the second half.
Arkansas’s fast start and strong finish — the 98 points is a season-high — signaled that Tulsa would not collect its second road win over an SEC team. The Golden Hurricane left Nashville, TN, two weeks ago with a 67-58 victory over Vanderbilt.
“You know we had a bad taste in our mouth coming out of the Western Kentucky game,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said. “We played so well through 39 minutes and were unable close that in a really tough environment with their crowd and so forth. Our week of preparation was awesome. The guys were locked in. We went fairly long on Monday and Tuesday and I thought defensively we got back to trying to be who we are.
“Just kind of walking back from the radio and talking to Hunter (Yurachek) and I think he kind of summed it up best: That two and a half minute sequence (at the end of the game) when we were flying around, that’s kind of how we have to play. That’s kind of our identity. I think that type of play resonates, especially within your own building, when fans see the players enthusiasm and energy out there like they had.”
Jones’s 41 points is tied for 7th-most scored in a game in Razorbacks history, and it’s one of only 11 times that a Hog has reached at least 40 points in a game in school history. The last 40-points-or-more outing by a Hog was Rotnei Clarke’s 51 points in a win over Alcorn State in November 2009 at BWA (all historical data provided by HogStats.com).
Jones scored 21 of his points in the second half. His deep, buzzer-beating 3-point launch bounced high off the rim before falling through the basket to give the Hogs a 50-34 halftime lead. Jones also had a personal 10-0 run that doubled Arkansas’s lead to 20, 81-61, with 8:07 to play.
Jones was 12-of-18 from the field, including 5-of-11 from 3, and 12-of-13 from the free-throw line in besting his previous career-high of 32 points scored against Rice in the season-opener, which was also the team’s previous high-point mark when it won 91-43 on Nov. 5 at BWA. Jones — he now has four 30-points-or-more games at Arkansas — also had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 1 block in 39 minutes against Tulsa.
“I didn’t know I would get to 40 until some of my teammates were coming up to me and to be honest, I was a just happy that we had a good bounce-back game but I was also proud to see my teammates having fun out there and seeing the crowd having so much fun with us,” said Jones, who struggled at WKU with 1-of-9 shooting while scoring only 9 points. “As you can see, we feed off the crowd. The crowd was so good today you could see the energy out there.”
Sophomore guard Isaiah Joe got off to a hot start making 3 of his first 4 attempts from beyond the arc, and he finished with 20 points (8-of-14 field goals, including 4-of-10 from 3), 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, and 1 steal in 28 minutes.
Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr., finished with 11 points (all in the first half) to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal in 33 minutes.
Sophomore guard Desi Sills and senior forward Adrio Bailey combined for 17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals.
Off the bench, junior guard Jalen Harris and sophomore forward Reggie Chaney combined for 9 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block.
As a team, Arkansas made a season-high 11 three-pointers out of a season-high-tying 30 attempts for 36.7%. The Hogs were 34-of-60 overall from the field for a season-best 56.7%. Arkansas also took care of the basketball, suffering only 8 turnovers while handing out 18 assists.
“Today was one of those days they (shots) were going down,” Joe said. “Everyone’s shots felt great. Desi knocked down a couple and me and Mason got hot for a little bit. But we know when we get going it’s going to be tough for the other team because we are known that when we’re making the 3-ball we’re going to take it.”
Defensively, the Hogs limited Tulsa to 4-of-18 from 3 (22.2%) while forcing 13 turnovers (of which 12 were steals) and blocking 7 shots. The Golden Hurricane did manage to make a respectable 28-of-64 overall field goals (43.8%), and they were slightly better than the Hogs at the free throw line (19-of-27 for 70.4% compared to Arkansas’s 19-of-29 for 65.5%).
Tulsa won the rebounding battle (39-31), second-chance-points (14-5), and points-in-the-paint (42-30), but the Hogs flourished in the open court in winning fast-break-points (27-8) and points-off-turnovers (23-8).
Six minutes into the second half, the Hogs were up by the same 16-point margin they enjoyed at halftime — 66-50 — but Tulsa whittled the deficit down to nine points, 68-59, with 11:59 to go.
The Arkansas lead was 71-61 when Jones went on his solo 10-0 run that put the game away.
Tulsa was led by junior guard Elijah Joiner’s 19 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Senior big man Martins Igbanu, who finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 steal. LSU transfer and junior wing/small forward Brandon Rachel started slow but finished with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 1 block.
Little Rock native and senior guard Lawson Korita played 24 minutes, finishing with 2 points and 5 rebounds for the Golden Hurricane.
“Obviously they played great,” Tulsa head coach Frank Haith said. “We didn’t play as well. Isaiah Joe was outstanding and so was Mason. Those two guys, we couldn’t stop them. They were terrific, but we didn’t play well, our defense was not very good.”
“I felt like Arkansas came in and played extremely hard, played extremely well. We gave them some live ball turnovers where they didn’t have to go against our defense. I thought that got them going going early in the game. Hat’s off to them. They played well.”
Arkansas used a 20-3 run in the first eight minutes of the game to take a 23-7 lead. Joe, Jones, and Sills combined for 5-of-7 three-point shooting in that stretch.
After a 10-3 Tulsa spurt pulled the Golden Hurricane within 45-34, the Hogs closed the first half by scoring the final five points for a 50-34 lead.
In the first half, the Hogs made 17-of-32 field goals (53.0%), including 6-of-15 from 3 (40.0%), while dishing out 9 assists against only 2 turnovers.
Defensively, Arkansas forced 7 turnovers (all steals) while blocking 3 shots in the first 20 minutes, and the Razorbacks held Tulsa to 1-of-6 from 3 for 16.7%.
It was the final December home game for the Razorbacks, who now set their sights on the annual game in North Little Rock as Valparaiso will be the opponent for a tilt set to tip at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday, Dec. 21, at Simmons Bank Arena.