FAYETTEVILLE – All week new Arkansas Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman challenged the frustrated, fouled out 1 for 6 shooting Mason Jones in Sunday’s exhibition game against the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans to play like the Mason Jones averaging 13.6 points for last season’s Razorbacks.
Suffice to say the junior guard responded. In Friday night’s 78-51 exhibition victory over the outmanned Division II Southwestern Oklahoma State University Bulldogs at Walton Arena, Jones scored a game-leading 22 points. He started with 13 points leading Arkansas’ 40-27 first half. For the game Jones hit 4 of 7 treys, grabbed six rebounds dished two assists and made two steals.
Seems that Musselman saw this coming from the 6-5 guard who scored an official career high 30 against Florida last season. Used off the bench against Little Rock, Jones started Thursday’s exhibition finale going into the Razorbacks’ official season-opener Nov. 5 against the Rice Owls at Walton.
“He’d probably love to talk about how we’ve challenged him,” Musselman said of Jones during last Thursday’s press conference. “But he’s had really good practices since Sunday. It’s been his best week, by far, of practice dating back to even when I first got the job. Six-and-a-half months or whatever it’s been. This short stretch between Sunday and right now have been his best practices. So hopefully they’re carry over into the game.”
Jones certainly did, Musselman said postgame Friday. “I thought Mason had a really big bounce back game,” Musselman said. “He had a great two or three or four practices where he was really, really focused and played extremely hard in practice and he earned a start tonight by the way he that practiced and he carried that onto the court. I thought he was really efficient. I thought he played unselfish. He’s obviously a big-time offensive weapon with his ability to make the three and he can play off the bounce, as well.”
Jones took Musselman’s challenge personally but without sulking. “Coach told me that a lot of people were disappointed in my performance against Little Rock,” Jones said. “I kind of took that personal, knowing that a lot of people thought I was inconsistent so I wanted to go a little hard. They have been on me harder so I know I have got to respond. I wanted to come out this game and respond better than the Little Rock game because I felt like I let myself done, I felt like I let my teammates down and because of that the game was a little closer than we wanted it to be.” Jones’ on-night was needed with Isaiah Joe suffering a very off shooting night.
The sophomore guard and Fort Smith Northside alum’s 25 points sparked by 8 of 17 treys led Arkansas’ 79-64 victory last Sunday over Little Rock. But Friday night Joe struggled even more against SWOSU than Jones struggled against Little Rock. Joe shot 0 for 5 0 for 4 on treys, and committed four fouls in 18 minutes.
Still, Joe impacted the game, Musselman said by attracting Bulldogs by the score allowing other Hogs to score. “Defensively, they did a good job of crowding Isaiah and they chased him really hard off screens,” Musselman said. “The good thing is I don’t think Isaiah took a bad shot. I thought he let the game kind of come to him. A lot of times he drew two defenders and sometimes you see guys try to shoot through the double-teams and they get a little antsy, but I thought he did a great job of saying, ‘Alright, well the game’s going to turn into a 3-on-4 game if two defenders are focused on me.’ That’s what you want from an unselfish scorer. So he kind of spaced the floor out at times and let some of his teammates take advantage of the numbers that were focused on him.”
Senior forward Adrio Bailey, graduate transfer senior guard Jimmy Whitt, sophomore guard Desi Sills and sophomore forward Reggie Chaney more than picked up the slack.Way too athletic inside for the Bulldogs to cope, Bailey, playing bigger than his 6-6 height, shot 7 for 7 and scored 15 points with four rebounds.
“Adrio played nearly flawless basketball,” Musselman said also praising Whitt, Sills and Chaney. Chaney scored 12 with a team-leading nine rebounds. Point guard Whitt scored 10 with four rebounds as did sophomore guard Sills. Jones scored the first half’s final five points. Jones hit a trey with 51 seconds and banked one home inside one second before intermission.
The visiting Bulldogs took 3-0 and 5-4 leads before Whitt, scoring Arkansas’ first six points, put the Hogs up, 6-5 at 17:44. A Sills trey completed a 7-0 run and a SWOSU timeout with the Bulldogs down 11-6 at 16:36.SWOSU ’s 5-0 run tied it one last time, 11-11. Jones’ trey at 13:37 snapped the tie starting a 7-0 run with a Chaney dunk from Sills netting an 18-11 lead at 12:04. Whitt and Bailey each scored eight Arkansas first-half points.Jones’ four rebounds led Arkansas’ 23-12 first-half advantage on then boards.
Outrebounded, 42-37 last Sunday by the Trojans, Arkansas Friday outboarded the Bulldogs, 49-26. “Rebounding the ball tonight was much better than against Arkansas-Little Rock,” Musselman said. “I thought we did a really good job defensive rebounding holding them to four offensive rebounds.”
He did frown on Arkansas’ 18 turnovers. “All we can do is just keep talking about it,” Musselman said. “I’d rather take a bad shot than turn the basketball over. We’ll keep working on it. We’ll come up with some gimmicks, some techniques over the next few days and see if it works.”