FAYETTEVILLE – With their every stripe Missouri’s Tigers controlled the tempo, the paint, the backboards and certainly Arkansas, 81-68 in Saturday’s SEC game at Walton Arena.
Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Tigers arrived in Fayetteville nationally ranked 12th but tarnished by a 73-53 home opening SEC loss last Wednesday to the nationally No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers.
Mizzou, 7-1, overall/1-1 in the SEC, has its mojo back.
Now it’s Coach Eric Musselman’s previously unbeaten Razorbacks dipped to 9-1, 1-1, not only tarnished but without mainstay forward Justin Smith heading into Wednesday’s game in Knoxville, Tenn. against those same Tennessee Volunteers that vanquished Mizzou.
Smith so injured his ankle during Arkansas’ SEC opening 97-85 victory at Auburn that it was announced Saturday he had undergone surgery Friday.
The injury should not end team leading rebounder Smith’s season but will sideline the 6-7 via Indiana University grad transfer from “three to six weeks” it was announced Saturday in a pregame press release.
Second-year Arkansas Coach Musselman said Saturday’s score indicates these Razorbacks could miss Smith as badly as Arkansas last season missed now Philadelphia 76ers rookie NBA guard Isaiah Joe.
Last season’s Hogs went 0-5 in the games that Joe rehabbed from arthroscopic knee surgery.
“It’s new for me,” former Nevada Coach Musselman said postgame of key injuries to starters. “We had no injuries at all at Nevada in four years. And unfortunately now in two years injuries to two players that we can iill afford to have injuries to. We are going to miss Justin Smith at Tennessee. The next four or five games are as hard as any games on our schedule.”
Smith, “arguably one of our most valuable players,” Musselman said, would have helped.
But it’s considerably doubtful Smith could have turned Saturday’s team tables given how the Tigers bullied the Hogs on the boards, 51-36 and negated Arkansas only turning the ball over nine times to Mizzou’s 21.
After scoring 100, 87, 85 and 95 points its last four games, Arkansas’ inability Saturday to hit inside shots Saturday rendered it outscoring Missouri only 15-9 off turnovers Saturday while Mizzou compiled plus 12 points in the paint over the Hogs.
“We had (only) seven assists,” Musselman said. “So when we turned them over, we didn’t look to kick ahead. We didn’t run, and we did not make the extra pass. I mean … you can’t make this up. You can’t make up that you lose a game by double digits and cause 21 turnovers.”
On postgame radio, Musselman surmised, “We didn’t rebound. We didn’t defend. That about sums it up.”
The coach’s frustration obviously lingered postgame even if his presence didn’t. He was ejected for the first time as a college head coach slapped with successive technical fouls during a timeout with 4:03 left in the game.
“Not gonna talk about it at all,” Musselman replied when asked what prompted his ejection. “We’ll talk to the appropriate people and I’ll leave it at that.”
Musselman preferred given credit where credit was due: to former Missouri State, Tennessee and University of California Coach Cuonzo Martin consistently producing physically, strong defensive teams, and individually to Mizzou 6-10 center Jeremiah Tilmon and Mizzou point guard Xavier Pinson. Pinson dominated with a 25 points/11 rebounds double-double. He also defensively thwarted Arkansas as all the Tigers did it seemed.
Pinson scored 23 points, including 12 of 15 from the free throw line, while dishing four assists against two turnovers.
“Tilmon played phenomenal,” Musselman said. “I thought he looked like a pro. Pinson played phenomenal. We laid out the game plan — do not foul Pinson. And Pinson went to the foul line 15 times. Four of them (his technical foul) were my fault. I get that.”
The Hogs actually compiled an 8-0 run after Musselman’s technical but that was way too little way too late in a game that Arkansas never led.
Poorly as the Hogs played in the first half, they only trailed, 35-32 at intermission.
But the strong second halves previously posted never occurred with junior guard Desi Sills, a game-leading 23 points at Auburn, and center Connor Vanover, 17 points at Auburn, a combined 1 for 21 from the field against Mizzou.
“As a coach, I’m never one to ever, ever blame one player,” Musselman said replied to a question about their struggles. “They’re student-athletes. Having said that, we need Connor to produce and we need Desi to produce if Justin’s not available.”
Even guards JD Notae’s 19 team-leading points off the Arkansas bench and Arkansas freshman guard Moses Moody, posting an 18-points/10 rebounds double-double, didn’t fill Musselman’s bill. Moody hit but 4 of 15 from the field and a below his average 6 of 10 from the free throw line.
Notae shot 6 of 18 from the field.
“I’ll be honest. I didn’t think anybody played very good today,” Musselman said. “I didn’t think I coached good. I didn’t think the assistant coaches coached good. I didn’t think anyone on our team did very well. We’ve got to across the board do better.”
Better at what seem the simplest.
“If you look at how many layups we missed,” Musselman said. “I’ve never in my entire coaching career seen so many missed layups. We missed a great number of point blank layups.”
Musselman saw that occurring even as the Hogs were 9-0 and Justin Smith starting all those games.
“Scoring around the rim has been a problem for us since our very first game,” Musselman said.
The problem grew by Smith’s 6-feet-7 and then some against Mizzou.