FAYETTEVILLE – The University of Tulsa bills itself the Golden Hurricane but Mason Jones blew the Hurricane away.
Behind Arkansas junior guard/forward Jones’ career high 41 points, first-year coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks gusted to a 98-79 blowout of the Hurricane Saturday afternoon at Walton Arena.
Isaiah Joe, Arkansas’ sophomore from Fort Smith Northside, also dealt a big hand Saturday scoring 20 points with nine in the first half and 11 in the second while hitting 4 of 3-pointers.
Arkansas advances to 9-1 going into next Saturday’s 7 p.m. game hosting Valparaiso at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.
Tulsa of the American Athletic Conference drops to 8-3.
Jones scored 20 in Saturday’s first half punctuated by his from the Hog’s tail buzzer beating deep three closing intermission with the Razorbacks up 50-34.
Postgame Jones was asked about the deep three before half hitting the rim and bouncing in and Musselman’s contention he was fouled and should have had an extra shot.
“I did get fouled, I’m still bleeding on my knee,” Jones said smiling. “Coach Muss just called a drop I run to my man, run in front of him and just drop behind. I went up and it went up and then I looked down and it went in. I was like, ‘Okay, God thank you.”
Jones scored 21 more in the second half. He departed to a standing ovation with 48 seconds left. It was an ovation earned given he hit 12 of 18 from the field, including 5 of 11 3-point tries, hit dozen consecutive free throws finishing 12 of 13, made four steals, grabbed six rebounds, blocked a shot and in 38:37 committed but one turnover while dishing four assists.
For Jones it was both literally and figuratively a day and night difference from last Saturday night’s 86-79 overtime loss at Western Kentucky. There he hit but 1 for 9 shots including missing a long three just before regulation ended tied 73-73 in Bowling Green, Ky.
“Well I’m just glad we were able to bounce back and get the win,” Jones said. “I knew when I set the tone good that the team is going to follow. And vice-versa. They come out going crazy I’m going to follow them because that’s what leaders do.”
Jones seemed even prouder of the three each first half steals that he and 6-5 guard/forward Joe achieved in the first half as Arkansas outscored TU, 14-4 on first-half turnovers.
“I had to play defense this game because Coach Muss said ’This (the Western Kentucky game) was your worst defensive game of the year,” Jones said. “I took that personal. I wanted to show Coach Muss that I could play D. I feel like I made everybody proud today, and I feel like we let the defense make our offense today.”
Musselman said Jones’ practices reflected his post Western Kentucky resolve.
“ I mean, his practice habits this week were awesome,” Musselman said. “He was locked in. I thought today he did a great job of mixing up perimeter shots with three balls. Then when he dribble drives he’s got an innate ability to get fouled. I thought as important as anything was his 13 free throws attempted. I thought he was really good defensively.”
Musselman said 6-5 guards Jones and Joe, having to play forwards with 6-6 senior Adrio Bailey as Arkansas’ tallest starters, both use their long arms and quick hands defensively.
“Both of those guys on the wings do such an incredible job of jumping passing lanes and using their wingspan and not having their hands in their pocket when they defend,” Musselman said. “They’re both playing up a position. When you’ve got those kind of mismatches, we need those guys to really be active defensively with their hands.”
TU coach Frank Haith, who used to face former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks twice annually when Haith coached Missouri in the SEC, was doubly impressed.
“Obviously they played great,” Haith said. “Isaiah Joe was outstanding and so was Mason. Those two guys, we couldn’t stop them. They were terrific, but we didn’t play well, our defense was not very good.”
Jimmy Whitt, the Arkansas graduate point guard who at SMU played AAC games against Haith’s Hurricane, scored 11 points with five rebounds and four assists and also drew Haith’s praise.
Haith’s team didn’t quit. With four TU starters, Elijah Joiner, Martins Igbanu, Brandon Rachal and Darien Jackson, scoring 19, 18, 14 and 10 points, the Hurricane made two second half runs.
A Joe three blunted the first run after TU scored the second half’s first six points.
The second, after a Jackson steal layup cut it to 68-59 at 11:48, was first answered by Arkansas guard Jalen Harris finding 6-8 reserve Reggie Chaney inside for a bucket and inside again to be fouled to make 1 of 2 free throws. Then Jones and the Arkansas defense breezed by a Hurricane stilled.
““I thought when we cut it to nine we were aggressive and had a good attack in the second half,” Haith said. “Then we had a stretch there where we didn’t score and had a live ball turnover that happened right away and that kind of got it going for them again.”
Photos courtesy of Crant Osborne