FAYETTEVILLE – The Razorbacks came home triumphantly 9-0 overall/ 1-0 in the SEC off last Wednesday at Auburn, Ala. outrunning the Auburn Tigers, 97-85.
They leave Fayetteville Tuesday for Wednesday night’s SEC game at Tennessee off what Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman called, “the worst home loss that I can ever remember being a part of.”
Last Saturday’s 81-68 SEC loss at Walton Arena to the Missouri Tigers looked that bad to Arkansas’ second-year coach previously head coaching the University of Nevada for four years aside from head coaching the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings in the NBA.
It looked especially bad considering how his Razorbacks, hitting but 19 of 71 shots and bullied on the boards with Mizzou outrebounding them, 51-36, responded their first game minus Justin Smith, their via Indiana University graduate transfer 6-7 high-leaping starting forward and leading rebounder.
With obviously no guarantee how ready he’ll be when he does return, Smith is presumed idled “from three to six weeks,” following last Friday’s surgery from the ankle injury he suffered at Auburn.
Two who have been mainstays, junior guard Desi Sills, so valuable for previous Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson as a 201-2018 freshman and for Musselman last season, and Connor Vanover, “the Unicorn” Musselman has called him as a shot-blocking center standing 7-3 equally comfortable swishing a three, suffered 1 for 10 and 0 for 11 shooting nightmares against Mizzou.
“We had two starters go 1 or 21,” Musselman said. “And that’s without Justin Smith who arguably is one of our most valuable players.”
Musselman recalled last season losing now NBA rookie guard Isaiah Joe for five games to a knee injury and the Razorbacks losing all five games.
Anderson bequeathed Musselman some high quality in current NBA guards Mason Jones, last season’s SEC Co-Player of the Year and leading SEC scorer, Joe, Sills and graduated 2019-2020 forward Adrio Bailey, but little quantity to replace the injured.
Entering this season Musselman thought he had recruited depth to fill such gaps this season.
Obviously he didn’t think he had filled any holes from his postgame interview Saturday when lobbed a question if he had cause to be less concerned with his team’s present state than when Joe’s 2019-2020 was five games injury interrupted,.
“No, I’m overly concerned,” Musselman said. “Overly concerned, for sure. I don’t feel any different last year when Isaiah went down than right now.”
Asked about recruited 6-10 forwards Vance Jackson, the grad transfer from the University of New Mexico that Musselman saw star against his Nevada teams but not yet excel as a Hog, or freshman Jaylin Williams from Fort Smith Northside or 6-8 junior 2-year letterman Ethan Henderson in Smith’s stead, Musselman was not confident of a quick fix.
“Not really sure right now what we’re going to do,” Musselman said. “It’s on me to try to figure it out. And we’re not going to have it figured out by Tennessee. I promise you that. It’s gonna be a process, just like it was last year when Isaiah was out. I told the team, when someone goes down, not only does another player have to step up, but you also have to play slightly better than you normally play in order to win a game when you have somebody go down. And guess what? I’ve got to coach better too.”
None of that happened against Mizzou, Musselman asserted.
Arkansas freshman guard Moses Moody, not spared Musselman’s “I didn’t think anybody played very good today,” assessment even with an 18-points/10 rebounds double-double, implied filling Smith’s shoes takes many feet.
“Everybody has to step up,” Moody said. “One person can’t take on Justin’s whole role. Everybody’s got to take a piece, get a couple extra rebounds, protect the rim. We’re going to have to change a little bit the way we’ve played so far because we’ve had him thus far. We’ve got to make those necessary adjustments to prevail in the future.”
Moody was asked if maybe the team needs to skip its short-term memory and just flush it’s Mizzou misery going into Knoxville.
He did not.
“I feel like we need to go back and see what we did wrong to correct all the small things and be ready for the next game,” Moody said. “We’ve got to learn from our loss. Don’t forget about it.”
They won’t be alone in Knoxville inwardly wishing both to forget and learn from their last game.
Tennessee’s nationally seventh-ranked but now 7-1, overall/1-1 in the SEC Volunteers were stunned, 71-63 by Alabama last Saturday in Knoxville.
Wednesday’s Arkansas vs. Tennessee game tips off at 6 p.m. (CST) on ESPN2.