Arkansas Razorback Basketball

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Asked what it was like for Missouri to play without star Tigers center Jeremiah Tilmon star against Arkansas last Saturday, Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman answered with a question

“I don’t know,” Musselman replied.  “I wonder what it was like for them to play us without Justin in Game?”

Arkansas forward Justin Smith missed the first of four games from his Dec. 30 ankle injury requiring surgery while on Jan. 2 Tilmon doubled-doubled with 25 points and 11 rebounds as Mizzou mauled Arkansas, 81-68 at Walton Arena.

Last Saturday while Tilmon was excused absent because of a death in his family, the Razorbacks at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. prevailed, 86-81.

Smith led the way against the nationally 10th-ranked Tigers.

The 6-7 graduate transfer forward via Indiana University, tallied a team leading 19 points and six rebounds, dished three assists and made two steals and never turned it over even playing 38 of the game’s 43 minutes including the entire overtime.

Now before amplifying on Smith, Musselman appropriately gave Tilmon his due.

“Tilmon’s a great player,” Musselman said.   “I think he’s one of the best centers in the nation. Obviously they missed him. He’s a threat on pick-and-rolls, he’s a dynamic roller, he’s a great rim protector. Hopefully everything’s all right with him and his family. Our thoughts are with his family. Because he’s a great player in this league. I’ve only been in the league a year and a half and just seen the  growth in the last year and a half and it  has been awesome to see.

Then he addressed who Arkansas didn’t have in Arkansas vs. Mizzou I but did in Arkansas vs. Mizzou II.

“I thought he (Justin Smith)  was awesome,” Musselman said.  “I thought he ran the floor hard. Obviously defensively, he’s so hard to take off the floor.”

Only maybe the very beginning …

 “Today, his first shot was a layup that he kind of scuffed,” Musselman said.  “And then after that, I thought offensively he was great. He was aggressive. He went 1 of 3 from three. He knocked down his free throws. He did not have one turnover in 38 minutes of play against an aggressive team. I think they have him  3 assists, 2 steals and no turnovers, plus the 19 points and 6 of 7 from the foul line. That was his best game as a Razorback.”

It was noted between them that Arkansas big men Smith, 7-3 sophomore center Connor Vanover and 6-10  center Jaylin Williams dished eight assists.

“We play through those guys a lot,” Musselman said.  “We kind of have all year. We ran a little bit of our open offense, which is a five-man passing game, because they deny a lot. Connor and Justin and Jaylin, those guys are really, really good passers. Jaylin Williams, great vision and really unselfish, as is Connor at that 5 spot.”

Freshman guard Moses Moody, 16 points, five boards and two steals including the game-clincher theft and free throws, and Vanover, 12 second-half points four rebounds, two assists and two shot-block proved significant co-stars proffering Smith star billing.

“”I think Justin definitely balled out today,” Vanover said.  “He was showing all that he’s capable of doing from start to finish, especially in those last minutes he played really well. I’d say it was definitely one of his better games. Since he has come back from injury, he looked like the best that he could be.”

Moody said he saw Smith’s game big game coming.

“He just came back with a vengeance this time,” Moody said.  “He had a different look in his eye and he was determined to get us this Quad 1 win, and that’s what we did.”

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