Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Off their marks: 3-pointer rate below standards for 4 UA players
Arkansas' Isaiah Joe (1) shoots over the top of North Texas' Deng Geu during a game Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas is struggling to make three-point shots almost as much as its opponents.
Arkansas (7-0) continues to rank No. 1 nationally in three-point defense at 17.9% (21 of 117) going into tonight's game against Austin Peay (3-3), even after Northern Kentucky hit 8 of 24 in the Razorbacks' 66-60 victory Saturday.
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas ranks 337th in three-point shooting out of 350 NCAA Division I teams.
Arkansas fell to 25.6% on three-pointers (40 of 156) after hitting 3 of 18 against Northern Kentucky.
"Our three-point shooting is a humongous concern right now," Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said. "It's night after night after night --and it's hard to win games when you shoot in the teens from three-point land."
Arkansas hit 10 of 25 three-pointers (40%) in beating Rice 91-43 in the season opener, but in the six games since the Razorbacks are 30 of 131 (22.9%).
"When you're not making a high volume of threes it's, 'What's the factor?' " Musselman said. "Do we need to run better sets? Is it that we're taking too quick a shot? Is the pass on target? Are you shot-ready as a player? Is the shot too deep?
"All those are things that we just continually talk to our guys about, and we've got to try to search as a staff to come up with answers as well."
Hitting three-pointers figures to be key for Arkansas' success because the Razorbacks lack size. Among the seven players averaging at least 17.5 minutes, the tallest are 6-8 sophomore Reggie Chaney and 6-6 senior Adrio Bailey.
"If we start clicking from three, I think we'll be that much harder [to beat]," Musselman said. "If we keep clanking them, we've got to be really good defensively."
Musselman expected Arkansas to be a solid three-point shooting team led by three returnees -- sophomores Isaiah Joe and Desi Sills, and junior Mason Jones -- and senior graduate transfer Jeantal Cylla. So far, none of the four have shot as well percentage-wise on three-pointers as last season.
Jones, who is questionable for tonight's game because of a shoulder injury that kept him out against Northern Kentucky, has hit 29% (9 of 31) on three-pointers after shooting 36.5% (76 of 208) last season. But credit Jones with hitting a game-winning three-pointer that banked in to lift Arkansas to a 62-61 overtime victory at Georgia Tech last week.
"Mason's doing a good job with the three right now," Musselman said.
Joe is at 33.3% (22 of 66) after shooting 41.4% last season (113 of 273) when he set an Arkansas season record for three-point baskets. In the last three games, he's a combined 6 of 27 (22.2%) from beyond the arc.
"Obviously, when Isaiah shoots, you think it's going in every time," Musselman said.
When Joe scored a season-high 33 points against Texas Southern before his three-game struggle, he had 29 points in the second half and shot 6 of 9 on three-pointers.
"I'm pretty sure everybody knows he can shoot and knock down shots," Arkansas senior guard Jimmy Whitt said. "Everybody knows at some point he's going to knock them down again, so it's nothing we worry about."
Joe shot 2 of 9 on three-pointers against Northern Kentucky, but Norse Coach Darrin Horn was full of praise. Horn was a Texas assistant coach last season when the Longhorns opened with a 73-71 overtime victory against the Razorbacks when Joe hit 5 of 8 three-pointers in his college debut.
"I think he is the best shooter that we have seen and will see all year," Horn said. "I think he is an elite, elite shooter."
Sills is shooting 6.7% on three-pointers (2 of 30), a shock considering he shot a team-high 46.0% (29 of 63) last season, including 18 of 27 in the final eight games capped by a 4-of-6 performance at Indiana.
"One thing for sure, shooters shoot, and I'm going to keep on shooting," Sills said. "Eventually they're going to fall. Coach Musselman told me to keep my confidence, keep shooting. I've just got to keep my head up."
Musselman said the coaching staff has gone over video with Sills on his three-pointers.
"We felt like he was kind of floating and not leaving in the same spot that he took off from on his jump shot," Musselman said. "That's one of the things we've talked to him about.
"But his arch on the ball is really good. His backspin and rotation on the shot's really good."
Musselman smiled when asked whether he wants Sills to keep shooting three-pointers.
"The lid's got to come off sooner or later," Musselman said.
Cylla has hit 1 of 10 three-pointers after shooting 31.1% (33 of 106) at North Carolina-Wilmington last season.
"Certainly we hope he regains his confidence," Musselman said. "I think right now he's going through a confidence issue. With any player, you hope they come out of it if they are in a little bit of a slump or whatever you want to call it."
The Razorbacks have gotten a slight three-point shooting boost from Bailey and junior guard Jalen Harris.
Bailey already has hit 2 of 6 three-pointers to match his total makes from last season when he was 2 of 12. Harris has hit 4 of 13 after going 8 of 69 last season.
But what the Razorbacks really need to bolster their perimeter scoring is for Joe and Sills to regain the shooting touch they showed as freshmen.
"When you look at the body of work with Isaiah and Desi and how they shot the ball last year, you think it's going to turn around for both of them," Musselman said. "Because they're both really good shooters and they both work on their craft."
Sports on 12/03/2019
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