Musselman provides update on Smith's health
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FAYETTEVILLE — Justin Smith is questionable for Arkansas’ game against No. 12 Missouri, head coach Eric Musselman said Thursday.
The graduate transfer from Indiana has started each of the first nine games of the season, but suffered a right ankle injury in the first half of Wednesday’s SEC-opening win at Auburn.
Although Musselman didn’t know much about his status immediately following the game, he revealed in Thursday’s Zoom videoconference with the media that Smith is pretty sore, but it doesn’t appear to be a serious injury.
“There’s nothing that’s long-term, meaning there’s nothing - to my knowledge as of today - that’s broken or anything like that, but he’s really swollen and really sore,” Musselman said. “It’s probably not worth speculating one way or the other, because we’re under 24 hours from when the injury (happened), but it’s a deep bone bruise.”
Smith suffered the injury when he was fouled on a fast break following an Auburn turnover with seven minutes left in the first half. He managed to return to the court and play the final 2:32 of the half, but did not play after halftime and wore a boot on the bench.
An athletic 6-foot-7 forward, Musselman said Smith is a great defender and rebounder who is also capable of big scoring nights - as evidenced by him reaching double figures in six of the eight non-conference games. He was also described by the coach as the team’s “unsung leader.”
It’s unclear exactly how the Razorbacks would fill Smith’s 26.6 minutes if he’s unable to go. Musselman didn’t want give away too much information during Thursday’s interview considering the looming matchup with a top-15 opponent.
However, big men like freshman Jaylin Williams or fellow graduate transfer Vance Jackson Jr. could be possibilities, and even lightly used veteran Ethan Henderson got some minutes at Auburn. Musselman could also go with a smaller line up and give someone like freshman guard Davonte Davis more action.
“It’s next man up - whether it’s a coach out, whether it’s a player out,” Musselman said. “I’m not really sure what we would do, who would start, but when we hit the practice floor in a few minutes…we’ll put some different guys out there and continue to evaluate what the best matchups would be for us as well.”
Whatever Musselman decides to do in the event that Smith misses Saturday’s game, it seems as though the Razorbacks are better suited to handle an injury this year than last year.
When Isaiah Joe went down for an extended period of time after having an arthroscopic procedure on his knee, Arkansas went on a five-game losing streak that moved it seemingly off the NCAA Tournament bubble.
“We really couldn’t sustain anything when we had an injury last year,” Musselman said. “It was kind of like, ‘Alright, let’s just go play and see what happens.’ Our guys played so hard and we lost so many close games, but when you’re undermanned, you’re undermanned.”
Joe was one of three primary offensive threats for the Razorbacks last season, along with SEC Player of the Year Mason Jones and crafty veteran Jimmy Whitt. They accounted for 64.8 percent of their scoring in 2019-20.
Through nine games this year, Arkansas’ top three scorers are barely accounting for half of the scoring, at just 50.6 percent, and nine different players have scored in double figures at least once.
“There was times last year where I was worried about who was going to get a shot if it wasn’t Mason or Isaiah or Jimmy,” Musselman said after Wednesday’s win. “In the huddles this time when we were looking at people, we were running certain sets, we talked about five guys being an option out there, which is a little bit more unique than the way we played last year.”
Tip off against Missouri is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT Saturday and the game will be televised nationally on CBS.