FAYETTEVILLE — Texas Southern brought the cupcakes, Isaiah Joe lit the candles with six flame-throwing second-half triples, and Adrio Bailey hosted a block party — all to celebrate Head Hog Eric Musselman’s birthday on Tuesday — as the Arkansas Razorbacks pinned the tail on the Tigers, 82-51, on Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena.
And once again, Arkansas (4-0) unleashed a strong defense in limiting Texas Southern (0-4) to 34.5% field goal shooting (19-of-55), including 18.2% from 3 (2-of-11), while forcing 24 turnovers (including 13 Hog steals) and racking up 10 blocked shots (half of which belonged to Bailey).
It was the first time this season that an Arkansas opponent scored at least 50 points. Arkansas and defending national champion Virginia were the first two NCAA Division 1 teams to both hold each of their first three opponents below 50 points in 70 years (1949-50).
“I had some cupcakes, and yes, the guys did sing,” Musselman said of his birthday celebration after remaining unbeaten at Arkansas. “I did not dance like Clay Moser. You’ve got to know your strengths and weaknesses.”
Arkansas’s strengths have mostly been on defense as the Razorbacks came into the game top 5 in the nation in scoring defense, overall field-goal-percentage defense, and 3-point-percentage defense. They also came in 8th in turnovers forced per game and 10th in steals.
The offense got a second-half lift from Joe, who made all six of Arkansas’s 3-point baskets in the final 20 minutes of the contest while stacking 29 of his Hog-season-high 33 points, which was one point shy of his career-high recorded a season ago. He also had a game-high 5 steals, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist.
Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr. registered a double-double — 17 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes — in reaching double-figures in scoring for the third straight game.
“That first half we were just so bad shooting the three ball,” Musselman said. “It’s like there was a lid on the basket. Obviously he (Joe) was the only one that hit (3-pointers) for us tonight, but it opened up the floor for everybody else.”
“I thought Jimmy Whitt’s mid-range game was phenomenal. Our point guards got 15 rebounds between them, which is huge for us. At that point guard position for those two guys to combined for 15 boards and Jimmy to get a double-double.”
Whitt was asked about his increased scoring production and role as a jack-of-all-trade value to the Hogs.
“I think each day I’m just trying to be a little better, be a little more aggressive,” Whitt said. “A guy coming in with these guys who have played together I’m trying to find my spot and ways I can help the team. I don’t want to hurt the team in ay type of way.”
“So finding that groove each and every game I think I’m getting better at it, finding ways to help the team on and off the court.”
Musselman talked more about Joe and Whitt both having big nights.
“It was interesting at halftime and I told some of the coaches that everyone talks about Isaiah’s offense, but in reality, his man hardly ever scores, hardly ever,” Musselman said. “In the four games that I have been a part of coaching Isaiah, he has great anticipation, Mason (Jones) has great anticipation, J5 (Jalen Harris) has really good quickness so kind of a calling card for us is going to have to be disruption defense.”
“We don’t really run plays for Jimmy. We’ll run some post-up plays, two or three a game, but he’s just kind of backing his man down and elevating and shooting over the guy in that 8 to 12, 13-foot range. We need him to score easy baskets for us, because he shoots such a high percentage. Especially when we’re not making threes we need some mid-range stuff. And then he’s able to draw a little more traffic with the defense and he made some nice dump-off passes as well tonight.”
Jones came in as the Hogs’ leading scorer (22.3 points), but played only 21 minutes as he finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal.
Bailey finished with 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal to go with his 5 blocks. Sophomore guard Desi Sills had 10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal in 30 minutes. Harris played 24 minutes off the bench and had a game-high 5 assists to go with 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal.
Sophomore forward Reggie Chaney saw his first action of the season after serving a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He checked in at the 11:08 mark of the first half as he logged 19 minutes and finished with 6 points (3-of-4 field goals), 4 steals, 2 rebounds, and 1 block.
“I think I played okay for my first time back,” Chaney said. “I did a little bit of inside scoring and got some rebounds for us and got some defensive stops. My conditioning is coming back slowly. I was a little tired out there but each and every day in practice I’m going to keep working hard.”
Arkansas lost the rebounding battle (38-36) but won the turnover war (24-10) for the third straight game. The Hogs dominated points-off-turnovers (28-6) and points-in-the-paint (44-28).
Despite the Hogs’ pitiful 0-of-14 effort from 3 in the first half, Joe’s 6-of-8 performance in the second half helped the team to break out of a two-game sub-70-point scoring slump.
Arkansas created a lot of high-percentage shots at the basket, converting 25-of-45 (55.6%) inside the arc. The Hogs finished 6-of-26 from 3 (23.1%), but they continued to shoot a high percentage at the free throw line, going 14-of-18 for 77.8%.
Senior guard Tyrik Armstrong led Texas Southern with 15 points, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. Leading scorer and rebounder Eden Ewing — a 6-8 Purdue transfer — played 22 minutes and was held to 9 points and 6 rebounds.
Arkansas drove to the cup for multiple lay-ins while jumping out to a 15-5 lead. Later, Whitt pulled up for a baseline jumper to cap a 10-1 Arkansas spurt that was good for a 28-10 lead at the 8:10 mark.
Texas Southern utilized a 10-4 run to close the first half trailing 37-24, which halted the Hogs’ season-opening 3-game run of holding opponents below 20 points at halftime.
Arkansas went 0-of-14 from 3 in the first half, but managed 15-of-20 (75%.0) inside the arc.
The Hogs’ stingy defense limited the Tigers to 9-of-29 shooting (31.0%), including 1-of-6 from 3 (16.7%) in the first half. Arkansas also forced 12 turnovers (including 7 steals) while blocking 7 shot attempts.
Joe made his first shot attempt of the second half — also the Hogs’ first made 3-pointer — as he would go on to knock down three more triples to give Arkansas its biggest lead at the time — 57-30 — with 11:40 remaining in the game.
The win over Texas Southern marked the second of four November home games being billed as the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow, and up next for Arkansas is the third matchup of the series against unbeaten South Dakota (5-0), set to tip around 8 p.m. CT Friday (SEC Network) on Nolan Richardson Court at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
“I thought we took care of business these first four games,” Musselman said. “We’re playing a really good South Dakota team that’s undefeated. They’ve won three games on a neutral site in Hawaii. Actually the Hawaii game was a true road win for them.
“They’re the No. 1 three-point shooting team in the nation right now. So we’re going to have to really defend and come up with some type of game plan that’s a little bit different defensively than what we’ve done these first few games.”