FAYETTEVILLE – The Montana Grizzlies scored more on Arkansas than any team this season. It did them no good. Exceeding the 43 points that Rice and North Texas scored in 91-43 and 66-43 losses to the Razorbacks still left the Grizzlies floundering in the Failing Under 50 Club. They lost 64-46 to Arkansas’ sticky defense Saturday afternoon before 13,058 at Walton Arena.
Offensively junior guard Mason Jones, a game leading 19 points, senior graduate transfer guard Jimmy Whitt, 14 points, and senior forward Adrio Bailey’s historic first career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, led Arkansas.
So first-year coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, holding opponents to under 50 for the first three games for the first time since 1945-46, advance 3-0 into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game against Texas Southern at Walton Arena while Montana falls to 1-2.
“I just thought our defense was once again really, really good, “ Musselman said. “They’ve really bought into the game plan defensively.”
And literally alarmed to defense Sayeed Pridgett, Montana’s 6-5 senior guard. Pridgett scored 17 and 30 points in the Grizzlies’ loss to Stanford and victory over Montana State Northern and had been Musselman sought out of Oakland, Calif. for Musselman’s University of Nevada team before signing with Montana. Pridgett scored 13 in 38 minutes Saturday and was harassed into seven of Montana’s 23 turnovers. “The guys were a little bit tired of hearing it all week since our last game, but we had a siren go off in all our preparations any time Sayeed Pridgett on the scout team touched the ball,” Musselman said. “We had a goal coming into the game to try to hold No. 4, Sayeed Pridgett to 13 points or less. His seven turnovers were really vital to us defensively.”
Reggie Chaney, the 6-8 sophomore serving an indefinite disciplinary suspension but still practicing, most often impersonated Pridgett in practice, Musselman said. But “a multitude” impersonated Pridgett in practice and even playing just seven players, Musselman alternated a multitude guarding and harassing Pridgett in the game with Whitt, Mason Jones, Desi Sills, and Isaiah Joe all taking their man to man turns.“We wanted to make him pass it and not just make him think about himself,” Jones said. “We wanted to make other people get involved and we knew if we bring the pressure to him, he wasn’t really good with the ball. You saw that today.”
They also saw defense carry them as the team that couldn’t shoot straight, just 20 of 54 from the field including just 4 of 20 treys. “We were not pretty offensively tonight,” Musselman said. “But that’s what you have to do on nights you can’t score. You have to up your defensive intensity.”
Nobody epitomized that more than Isaiah Joe. The normally sharp-shooting, high scoring sophomore guard from Fort Smith Northside hit but 2 of 13 shots, including 2 of 9 treys, and even struggled on free throws 3 of 5. He still earned Musselman’s praise.“ I thought Isaiah was off the charts good defensively,” Musselman said. “He guarded Pridgett some, he guarded (Kendal) Manuel (needing 16 shots to score 12 points) who is a transfer from Oregon State. Sometimes your shot just doesn’t fall. But he rebounded (five) the basketball. I thought he did a really, really great job for us defensively.”
Joe’s second three Saturday did complete the 7-0 run that doubled to 47-33 with 9:38 left in the game, the lead that Montana had cut to seven after trailing 31-18 at half.
Between them Jones, 8 for 8, and Bailey, 4 of 6, figured prominently in Arkansas hitting and attempting a season high 20 of 26 free throws. “We finally got to the free throw line,” Musselman said. “The first two games we were disappointed in our FTAs, free throws attempted) and not getting to the line more.” Asked about Bailey’s double-double, Musselman said of his 6-6 forward forced to play center on a very small team, “I think he’s doing a phenomenal job. When he plays that center spot he’s just so quick off the floor. I thought his offensive rebounds were phenomenal. I thought he played a great all-round game.”
Bailey intends more than double-double doubling Saturday’s double-double.“ Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited that I got it,” Bailey said. “But I want it to be the first of many, not just one game.”
Photos curtesy of Craven Whitlow
CW3, Sports Action