FAYETTEVILLE – The University of North Texas Mean Green defense wouldn’t allow Arkansas to score like the Razorbacks’ romping 91-43 over Rice last week. But thanks to their own defense, the Razorbacks romped again paling the Mean Green, 66-43 Tuesday night at Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks of the SEC stand, 2-0 heading into hosting the University of Montana Grizzlies at 4 p.m. Saturday at Walton Arena. North Texas of Conference USA, in its previous game battling No. 25 Virginia Commonwealth to the wire in a 59-56 defeat in Richmond Va., falls to 1-2.
For Musselman, Arkansas’ first year coach but a coaching veteran of the NBA and at the University of Nevada, it marked a “first” in 14 years of holding consecutive opponents to less than 50 points. “Just a phenomenal job from a defensive standpoint,” Musselman said. “I thought we played with great defensive enthusiasm tonight. We’re through two games now and we’ve held our opponents to 4 of 42 from three-ball, so we’ve done a great job of taking away that three-point line thus far.”
UNT shot 2 of 17 from three after hurting Virginia Commonwealth with threes.
“We felt like No. 55, (DJ) Draper, had a big impact against VCU,” Musselman said. “Here he didn’t take a shot in 12 minutes. We felt like we wanted to try to attack him. We felt like he couldn’t keep up with our athleticism off the bounce and we fouled him out in 12 minutes. The other guy that we were really worried about from three-point land was Gibson. And Gibson went 1 of 5.”
However it wasn’t until the second half that Arkansas could spurt away from UNT’s grinding defense and “methodical” offense. “I thought their coaching staff and their team did a really good job of playing at a methodical pace, controlling the tempo in the first half,” Musselman said. “I’m really proud our team not to panic and not to come out and try to rush things, because the pace of the game was so slow. They did a really good job defensively. Eventually we made that spurt there in the second half and opened up the game.”
Guards Isaiah Joe, the sophomore from Fort Smith Northside, and Mason Jones paced Arkansas with 16 points each Tuesday night. Senior point guard Jimmy Whitt, usually more table-setter than scorer, scored 13 for Arkansas, his nine leading Arkansas’ 28-16 first half when points were hard to come by.
“I felt like I needed to be a little bit more aggressive because they were really zoned in on guys like Isaiah and guys like Mason,” Whitt said. “They know those are our primary scorers.”
Musselman’s Razorbacks compensated for being outrebounded 37-24 for the game by cutting last Tuesday’s 21 turnovers against Rice to 10 while forcing 18 UNT turnovers outscoring UNT, 22-7 on miscues.
Coach Grant McCasland’s Mean Green opened living up to its reputation for sticky defense but nothing could play stickier than Arkansas’ opening defense. For nothing is what Arkansas allowed the Mean Green for the game’s first 8:12. UNT missed it’s first 11 shots without getting to the free throw line before finally scoring via 6-10 forward Zachary Simmons inside at 11:38.
Because UNT’s defense played so well, Arkansas only led 9-0 before Simmons tally. Down 10-6 was close as UNT came in the first half. A surprise three by Arkansas senior forward Adrio Bailey, 2 for 12 last season on his only 3-point attempts for his three previous Arkansas seasons, gave Arkansas its first 10-point lead, 24-14 at 2:11.
“I thought a big key to opening up their defense a little bit was when Adrio actually hit that three,” Musselman said. Bailey’s role is inside but he’s green lighted to take a three.”
Coach Musselman is building confidence in me to shoot it,” Bailey said. “I just felt when it came to me my feet were set and let it go.”
UNT James Reese and Arkansas Jalen Harris exchange of completing one-and-ones occurred at 1:15 and :37 before Joe’s steal and layup with nine seconds left put Arkansas up, 28-16 at intermission, its biggest lead of the half. UNT only hit 7 of 26 shots from the first half field and 0 for 9 on threes.
UNT dominated early in the second half cutting the 12-point intermission lead 31-26 by 16:15. A Joe 3-pointer followed by Jones’ spectacular field goal and one of Jalen Harris rebounding a Jones miss with a deflection assist to a soaring Jones who scored and was fouled.
Still the Mean Green closed back to down five before a 9-0 run punctuated by a crowd erupting Bailey’s dunk had the Hogs up and soaring 47-33. Bailey’s post dunk hanging on the rim gave UNT a free throw breaking the run, but the Hogs just kept surging.
Photos curtesy of Craven Whitlow
CW3, Sports Action