Takeaways from Arkansas' 86-69 win over Tennessee
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FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas got its revenge Wednesday night.
Just two weeks after suffering its worst loss of the season on Tennessee’s home court, the Razorbacks welcomed the Volunteers to Fayetteville and flipped the script with an 86-69 win at Bud Walton Arena.
The victory gives Arkansas its first back-to-back wins since mid-January, improving it to 18-10 overall and 6-9 in SEC play.
“It feels good, man, to get those wins,” sophomore Isaiah Joe said. “I feel like we’re getting back on track, fixing all the little problems we’ve been having in the past and capitalizing on what we can do in the future.”
With three games remaining, the Razorbacks have already exceeded last year’s regular-season win total and are just two shy of reaching 20 wins before the SEC Tournament for just the seventh time in the last 21 seasons.
Next up, Arkansas has to take the show on the road with a trip to Athens, Ga., to face Georgia. The Bulldogs (14-14, 4-11) are coming off an overtime loss at South Carolina.
Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
One of the biggest keys for Arkansas heading into this game was that it needed to get off to a better start. It had to overcome an early 13-point deficit to beat Missouri and couldn’t quite dig out of large early holes during its five-game losing streak.
The Razorbacks got a couple of good looks from beyond the arc on the game’s opening possession, but missed both and the Volunteers answered by making 1 of 2 free throws on the other end.
Unlike recent weeks, though, Arkansas didn’t let it spiral out of control. Instead, it actually scored the next 14 points to take a 13-point lead. A three-pointer by Desi Sills actually stretched the lead to 15 midway through the half, as Arkansas led 24-9.
“I just thought the focus the last couple days was phenomenal,” head coach Eric Musselman said. “We talked over and over about trying to get off to a good start.”
Tennessee managed to get back within single digits a couple of times, but that early cushion was a luxury the Razorbacks haven’t experienced in quite some time.
It helped them take a 40-27 lead into halftime, which was a stark contrast to their 40-23 deficit in Knoxville, Tenn., two weeks ago. The 13-point margin at the break was Arkansas’ largest in SEC play, surpassing its nine-point lead over Texas A&M in the conference opener, and its largest overall since leading Tulsa 50-34 on Dec. 14.
Henderson Shines Early
An unexpected contributor to that quick start was Ethan Henderson, who found himself in the starting lineup for the second time in three games.
The move by head coach Eric Musselman paid immediate dividends, as the Little Rock Parkview product provided a burst of energy in the game’s first four minutes. He racked up four rebounds, with three coming on the offensive end - including one that led to a nice put back for two points - and notched a block all before the first media timeout.
Those were his only points, but he finished the game with a career-high nine rebounds - shattering his previous high of five set against Providence in the NIT last year - and matched a career high with three blocks.
Henderson put up those numbers in 30 minutes of playing time - another career career high and six times his career average playing time entering the game.
For a more in-depth breakdown of Henderson’s performance, click here.
Jones Joins Exclusive Club
After coming up five points shy of joining the 1,000-point club against Missouri on Saturday, Mason Jones got the milestone out of the way early on Wednesday.
The junior knocked down a jumper to get the scoring started, made a tough fast break layup and then knocked down a pair of free throws - the first of which gave him 1,000 career points - within the first 4 minutes and 2 seconds of the game.
Although he is the 44th player in school history to reach that mark, Jones is just the eighth to do it in his first two seasons with the Razorbacks. He joins Martin Terry, Todd Day, Scotty Thurman, Dusty Hannahs, Bobby Portis, Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.
Considering his journey - which includes a stop in junior college, a lack of Division I offers and transforming his body - Jones said he sometimes thinks it’s still a dream and that it hasn’t hit him yet about what he accomplished.
“I just can’t really feel what I’m going through right now because I’m so glad we won,” Jones said. “Probably when I get to the house I’m just going to really dive into, ‘Wow, you just scored 1,000 points.’”
Jones was just getting started, though. He ended up scoring 15 points in the first half and added another 22 after halftime, giving him 37 points for the night.
About one-third of those points came at the charity stripe, where he made 12 of 15 free throws, but he was also 11 of 19 from the floor, including 3 of 7 from three-point range. Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes described him as “terrific.”
“We had no answer for him,” Barnes said. “He did it inside, he got to the free throw line, which I respect that as much as anything. He was feeling it obviously and he got going with it. Again, that's as good of a performance as we've seen all year against us.”
It was Jones’ seventh 30-point game of the season, raising his scoring average to 21.1. That currently ranks seventh on the UA’s single-season list and would be the best mark since Day averaged 22.7 points in 1991-92.
Including two 30-point games had had last year, Jones is now tied with Day and Joe Kleine for second in school history with nine such games in his career, according to HogStats.com. Only Martin Terry had more, with 17.
Jones credited Wednesday’s performance - as he’s done before - to Tennessee players who trash talked him during the game.
“When people try to talk trash to me and tell me what I’m not and tell me I’m not this, it really just adds fire to my game,” Jones said. “That is when I really go out there and show that this is what I am and this is what I can do. Don’t ever try to disrespect me because I don’t disrespect other people.”
It never seems to be easy for Arkansas and Wednesday night was no different.
Coming out of halftime, the Razorbacks got the ball first and Jimmy Whitt found Adrio Bailey cutting to the basketball for an easy layup that pushed their lead back out to 15.
Even though Jones missed a layup that would have made it an even wider margin, Barnes did not like what he saw from his team and called a timeout less than a minute into the half.
The Volunteers responded by going on an 11-0 run, cutting Arkansas’ lead to four in a span of 2.5 minutes. They even pulled within two on a Jordan Bowdan jumper at the 14:10 mark
Musselman called a timeout of his own during that stretch and said afterward that there was no panic in the huddle. Instead, the players showed maturity by simply mentioning it was time to answer with a run for themselves.
“I just remember going back into the huddle when Coach called a timeout,” Jones said. “(Joe) was just like, ‘Remember what they did to us at their house.’ That just fueled me, gave us more power. We all agreed in the huddle, ‘Let’s blow them out.’”
Sure enough, the Razorbacks used a three-point play by Jones and back-to-back threes by Sills and Joe - the last of which came after a huge block by Henderson - to quickly stretch their lead back out to 11.
Tennessee managed to get within single digits four times over the next couple of minutes, but never got closer than nine points because Arkansas answered each time. The Razorbacks led by double figures for the final 9:23.
~It wasn’t a sellout like its Saturday games, but Arkansas still drew a crowd of 14,101 despite freezing temperatures in Northwest Arkansas.
~In his second game back after having his knee scoped, Joe scored 22 points in 35 minutes. He was just 4 of 12 from the floor - including 2 of 8 from beyond the arc - but drew eight fouls to get to the free throw line a lot. At the charity stripe, he was a perfect 12 of 12, with eight coming in the final four minutes to help seal the victory. It is just the fifth time an Arkansas players has been 12 of 12 or better in a game and the first since Kareem Reid went 14 of 14 against Memphis in 1998.
~As a team, the Razorbacks made nine three-pointers against the Volunteers. It’s just the fourth time they’ve made that many in SEC play this season, but they’ve now done it in back-to-back games. Since Saturday, Arkansas is 21 of 48 (43.8 percent) from beyond the arc. In their first 26 games, the Razorbacks shot just 31.3 percent.
~After scoring 20 points against Arkansas the first time around, Santiago Vescovi was limited to just six points Wednesday. He missed all four of his three-point shots after making 3 of 4 two weeks earlier, plus saw his assists drop from eight to zero. The difference was that Musselman put in a new defensive plan - one he hadn’t ever used at the collegiate level - to slow him down, with Whitt being his primary defender. “Not going to go into a lot of detail because we could play them again,” Musselman said. “Overly proud that Jimmy was able to guard him and shade him the way that we wanted to, because it’s not an easy thing to do for 40 minutes.”
~For the second straight game, Sills came off the bench and was an efficient scorer for the Razorbacks. He had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. That performance came on the heels of a 17-point effort against Missouri in which he shot 6 of 8 from the floor and 4 of 6 from three-point range. “He’s done a great job, had a great attitude,” Musselman said. “He knew that we were trying to figure out a way to get off to better starts and he was a willing guy to accept, ‘Hey, I’m not going to let it effect my game coming off the bench. Do what you want to do and I’ll play hard and try to provide the team whatever I can.’”
~A pair of Arkansas greats were in attendance Wednesday night. Legendary head coach Eddie Sutton, who won 260 games in 11 seasons and took the Razorbacks to the 1978 Final Four, received a standing ovation when shown on the videoboard during a media timeout in the first half. That came immediately after former Arkansas standout Sonny Weems, a second-round NBA Draft pick, was introduced.