Hogs pick up big win be­fore road swing

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Nate Allen Ra­zor­backs Re­port

FAYET­TEVILLE - For a team in Arkansas’ new shoes, the Ra­zor­backs’ SEC opener fit per­fectly.

The Ra­zor­backs cheered the Wal­ton Arena sold-out crowd of 19,200 cheer­ing them on to vic­tory last Satur­day by de­feat­ing the Texas A&M Ag­gies 69-59.

A team that eas­ily could have been over­con­fi­dently smit­ten with a sur­pris­ing

11-1 non­con­fer­ence start, the now 12-1 over­all Ra­zor­backs first­hand dis­cov­ered SEC gimmes don’t ex­ist.

Picked 12th to Arkansas’ 11th by SEC Me­dia Days me­dia pre­dic­tions for the 14-team league, and un­like Arkansas not sur­pris­ing with a 6-5 non­con­fer­ence start, first-year Coach Buzz Wil­liams’ Ag­gies vis­it­ing Wal­ton may have seemed about as close to a SEC gimme as Arkansas could get. They weren’t. Not un­til Isa­iah Joe’s 3-pointer sup­ply­ing a 10-point lead with 1:38 left could firstyear Arkansas Coach Eric Mus­sel­man’s Ra­zor­backs deem the game firmly in the win col­umn. “We’re 1-0 in league play, and we played good bas­ket­ball,” Mus­sel­man said postgame. “I didn’t think it was our best game of the year, but we played well enough to win. We cer­tainly have to play a lot bet­ter in Ba­ton Rouge than we did tonight.” The Ra­zor­backs next play Coach Will Wade’s LSU Tigers, 9-4 over­all, 1-0 in the SEC upon win­ning 78-64 last Satur­day at Ten­nessee, in Wed­nes­day’s 8 p.m. ESPNU tele­vised game at LSU’S Mar­avich Cen­ter in Ba­ton Rouge, Louisiana.

Mus­sel­man told the Ra­zor­backs that Wil­liams’ Ag­gies would not be an easy out. The Hogs played like they be­lieved their coach, but there is still some­thing to be said for the dif­fer­ence in league play even off an 11-1 non­con­fer­ence con­cluded with a big win in In­di­ana over the In­di­ana Hoosiers.

“I think just chalk that up to con­fer­ence play,” Arkansas grad­u­ate trans­fer guard Jimmy Whitt, the lone Ra­zor­back made postgame me­dia avail­able, said. “We knew they were go­ing to come out and play hard, play well. So you’ve got to give credit to them. It was one of those games you need in con­fer­ence play to show you

can grind it out, even when things may not be go­ing how you want them to. I thought we needed it per­son­ally.”

From Wil­liams’ 239-148 record of hard-play­ing teams as head coach at Mar­quette and Virginia Tech, and Wil­liams’ in­flu­ence with the Ag­gies’ ef­fort, Mus­sel­man knew his Hogs could not ex­pect a cake­walk.

“The tape we watched, we kind of fig­ured it would be a grind-it-out game,” Mus­sel­man said. “There’s not a lot of tran­si­tion flow when you play A&M. I thought Coach Wil­liams did a phe­nom­e­nal job of con­trol­ling tempo.”

Whitt cred­ited the Ag­gies for set­ting the tempo un­til Arkansas’ im­pro­vised five­g­uard game-end­ing lineup forced the turnovers mak­ing the dif­fer­ence at the fin­ish.

“I thought we sort of played maybe at their pace today.” Whitt said. “That’s stuff that we can go back and watch film on and get bet­ter on. You have to tip your hat to them be­cause they played hard.”

The Hogs nor­mally would be hand­i­capped los­ing their tallest starter, 6-6 se­nior for­ward Adrio Bai­ley to foul trou­ble. Bai­ley, hob­bled by an ap­par­ently mi­nor knee in­jury pick­ing up his third foul with 18:07 left, re­turned at 15:57 but re­tired for the game’s du­ra­tion amass­ing his fourth foul at 12:12.

Bai­ley has been a dirty work stand­out dur­ing Arkansas’ 11-1 non­con­fer­ence start but this game the Ra­zor­backs did bet­ter with him on the bench and re­serve guard Jalen Har­ris join­ing start­ing guards Ma­son Jones, Desi Sills, Joe and Whitt.

“That small group was re­ally good get­ting de­fen­sive stops when we needed it,” Mus­sel­man said.

All five are called guards but in re­al­ity so hy­brid they are “posi­ton­less,” Buzz Wil­liams said with ad­mi­ra­tion.

“I think they are all in­ter­change­able,” Wil­liams said. “I think they’re com­fort­able, no mat­ter who the five are.”

The pres­sure they ap­plied (A&M com­mit­ted 17 turnovers to Arkansas’ 10) and the abil­i­ties of Whitt (12 points) scor­ing in­side while Joe and Jones, a com­bined 9 of 23 threes as each scored 17 points, and Sills scor­ing 13 took its toll on the Ag­gies down the stretch.

“Turnover by the Ag­gies, made field goal by Arkansas,” Wil­liams said of the game’s fi­nal 6:40 as A&M’S 59-54 dis­ad­van­tage upped be­tween seven and 10.

The crowd’s “in­sanely awe­some en­ergy,” as Mus­sel­man put it, helped the Hogs greatly.

They won’t have that crowd hit­ting the SEC road, but they do have the 2-1 ex­pe­ri­ence from three tough non­con­fer­ence road games at Ge­or­gia Tech, Western Ken­tucky and In­di­ana lead­ing into this Wed­nes­day’s and Satur­day’s vis­its to LSU and Ole Miss.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.