FAYETTEVILLE – With Sunday’s 71-64 big victory over the Big Ten’s big Indiana University Hoosiers at IU’s Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. capping an 11-1 November-December nonconference campaign, Arkansas coach Eric Musselman campaigns for a new narrative.
His Razorbacks runts with 6-6 senior forward Adrio Bailey their tallest starter and relying on just seven players against an IU team starting a 6-11, 6-9, 6-7 frontline with a 5-deep bench, wearied the now 11-2 Hoosiers cutting them and their 11-point lead down to a losing size.
On postgame radio Sunday night, Musselman remarked, “Every night people say, ‘How is Arkansas going to match up with fill in the blank? Are we going to be able to hold our own on the glass? But how are they going to match up with us?”
Quick guards and 3-point shooting is the obvious Arkansas antidote, but presumably bigger, deeper teams wears that down, conventional wisdom rebuts.
The Razorbacks rebut unconventionally.
“It’s we don’t play enough guys so we are going to get tired,” Musselman said. “Who got tired tonight? The team with all the depth got tired. It wasn’t Arkansas. We finished the game with a 19-3 run.”
The Hoosiers leading Arkansas, 50-39 with 16:04 left and the 14,000-plus Assembly Hall full house roaring where IU had been 9-0, weren’t the same at the finish. Chasing 6-5 Razorbacks guards playing forwards Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones all over the perimeter took its toll. UA sophomore Joe of Fort Smith Northside scored 24. He made 6 of 17 threes and the final 4 of 4 free throws that sealed the deal.
Jones scored 21 including successive threes putting the Razorbacks irrevocably ahead, 67-62 after IU’s 62-61 last lead.
The matchup of 6-5 guard Jones playing power forward against bulky 6-9 types is often sized up as Arkansas’ matchup nightmare.
“In reality, Mason Jones in that 4-spot is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams,” Musselman said. “We play four guards (Joe, Jones, Desi Sills, and Jimmy Whitt the starters rotating with sixth man Jalen Harris). We space the floor and we’re hard to match up with when we’re knocking down threes.”
Trayce Jackson-Davis, IU’s outstanding 6-9 freshman forward, was Arkansas’ first-half nightmare scoring 16 points as IU led 38-33 at intermission. But Jackson-Davis wore down in the second half adding just four for his 20 total against a readjusted Arkansas defense. Musselman utilized Bailey, with team highs eight rebounds and two shot blocks, and 6-8 sophomore reserve Reggie Chaney, four rebounds and six points, on Jackson-Davis rather than on 6-11 IU center Joey Brunk, eight points and 11 rebounds.
“The first half we had our point guard (Whitt, 6-3) guarding him and we fronted,” Musselman said. “Then in the second half, I thought Adrio Bailey and Reggie (Chaney) did a phenomenal job of just trying to limit his touches. I thought that by eliminating Trayce Jackson-Davis’ inside shot attempts and trying to make them beat us from the perimeter, I thought it changed the game a little bit for us.”
Indiana hurt its depth when reportedly normally composed junior guard Aljami Durham elbowed Bailey so flagrantly that Durham was ejected. Durham logged only five minutes.
Still, the Hoosiers were up 11 with experienced guards in his place. Yet the the Razorbacks, supposedly running on fumes with the five starting logging from 31 minutes to Joe’s 38, ran away with it.
“We started making a run and we could tell they were wearing down,” Joe said. “We were exhausted, but Coach Musselman has taught us to be mentally tough out there. So we knew if they started wearing down we couldn’t let up. These are the games you live for.”
They’ve got five full reenergizing days before their SEC opener against the Texas A&M Aggies at 6 p.m. Saturday at Walton.
“This was a great way to go into conference play without question,” Musselman said. “Bud Walton should be rocking on Saturday against A&M as we head into SEC play.”