FAYETTEVILLE – Playing 38 minutes last Saturday against Missouri for his first game back since Feb. 4 arthroscopic surgery apparently didn’t affect Isaiah Joe’s knee.
The knee that started ailing the Razorbacks’ sophomore shooting guard via Fort Smith Northside three games before the surgery and sidelined him for five games after the surgery apparently didn’t swell significantly off his game high 21 points in 38 minutes of Arkansas’ 78-68 SEC success over Mizzou at Walton Arena.
Joe reported for practice Monday already obviously penciled into Coach Eric Musselman’s lineup for the Razorbacks rematching against the Tennessee Volunteers.
“From all indications from Mark (O’Neal, the basketball team’s trainer), everything’s good,” Musselman said. “He’s feeling good.”
Arkansas, 17-10 overall, 5-9 in the SEC, and Tennessee, 15-12, 7-7, tip off at 7:30 Wednesday night at Walton Arena on the SEC Network.
Joe gave Arkansas significant offense and defense breaking a 5-game losing streak. His presence alone as an active body helped a team that when Joe was healthy principally relied on seven players.
“I think it makes a huge difference for us from a rotation standpoint,” Musselman said Monday. “Quite frankly, when Isaiah wasn’t in uniform, they kind of self-subbed. Now we can kind of sub based on performances. Before if a guy wasn’t playing well, he still got minutes because we had nowhere else to turn. So by getting Isaiah back and a player that you know is going to play 30 to 38 minutes or whatever, it certainly allows us to substitute based on productivity on that given night. So I think it changes things dramatically. And then you add in the fact he’s a really good player, too.”
Joe’s return may mean customary starting sophomore guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro again coming off the bench.
Junior guard Jalen Harris had been the most effective sixth man but recently has struggled.
Sills starred off the bench scoring 18 points when Joe’s knee caused him to sit out the 78-67 SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge victory over TCU on Jan. 25 at Walton Arena.
Joe returned the next two games, though the last one in the victory over Alabama went scoreless for his time ever, before sitting out with the surgery that started Arkansas’ 5-game losing streak.
Joe took Sills’ starting spot against Missouri. Sills surged off the bench scoring 17, 14 in the second half and played 32 minutes, only behind starting guards Jimmy Whitt and Joe for minutes against Mizzou.
So might Sills be sixth man Wednesday night against Tennessee?
“It’s something we’re talking about because he came off and gave us a great scoring punch,” Musselman said. “He’s usually in there in crunch time. That’s why I said we’re probably going to change our starting lineup, I don’t know who that fifth guy is. We’ve tried a bunch of different guys, we’ve just got to keep tinkering and see what sticks.”
Guards Mason Jones, Whitt, Joe, Sills and senior forward Adrio Bailey comprised the starting five most of the season. Harris, and forwards Reggie Chaney, Ethan Henderson and Jeantal Cylla all variously have started.
Joe was still on injury rehab when Tennessee, the only team to blow out these Razorbacks all season, embarrassed Arkansas, 82-61 on Feb. 11 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Tennessee 6-6 starting freshman Josiah Jordan-James was injury sidelined when Arkansas visited Knoxville.
Musselman knows he needs to review Jordan-James’ recent productivity. But he says he’s got troubles enough reviewing what Vols point guard Vescovi Santiago, 20 points and eight rebounds, Jordan Bowden, 16 points and six rebounds, John Fulkerson, 14 points and eight rebounds, Yves Pons, 12 points and four rebounds, and Olivier Nkamhoua, 10 points and six rebounds, and Devonte Gaines, seven rebounds, inflicted on Arkansas in Knoxville.
“He (Jordan-James) is a great player, but I’m still going back and watching the film of whoever was on the floor of their five guys that had their way against us,” Musselman said. “He’s a really good player, but I can’t even be concerned with him right now, because we’ve got to figure out how to stop the guys that were actually in uniform for them last time.”