Musselman's late game trust pays off

By: Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman speaks to his team in a huddle during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Tech, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman speaks to his team in a huddle during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Tech, Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

— Past coaching matchups with NBA head coaches influenced the Eric Musselman philosophy of not calling a timeout at the end of overtime when Arkansas defeated Georgia Tech on Monday.

Musselman, the Razorbacks’ head coach who spent three years as a head coach in the NBA, said he often observed Phil Jackson’s teams make adjustments without timeouts.

“I kind of always marveled at the fact that his teams figured things out,” Musselman said.

Now in end-of-game situations, Musselman is more likely to let his team play out the clock instead of take a timeout to set up a play from out of bounds.

That is what happened Monday when the Razorbacks took possession with 22 seconds and three timeouts remaining, and trailing Georgia Tech 61-59. Arkansas put the ball in the hands of its best shooter, Isaiah Joe, but he commanded a double team well away from the basket.

Mason Jones took the ball from Joe near midcourt with less than five seconds to play, drove to his right and hit a step-back 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second left to give the Razorbacks a 62-61 victory.

“I think there are times where if you feel like your team is completely discombobulated or you feel like they don’t understand their roles or some player is going to take an ill-advised shot at the wrong time,” Musselman said, “but Isaiah had the ball and he felt an extra defender and passed it to another really good player who obviously feels comfortable taking the shot at the end of the game. You’re going to have to have player reads regardless of what you do with the timeout.”

Musselman has not called a timeout through six games with the Razorbacks. Being stingy with his timeouts was a trait he carried to Arkansas from four seasons at Nevada.

When asked about not using a timeout at the end of Monday’s game, Musselman reflected on a Nevada game against Cincinnati in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The Wolf Pack’s Josh Hall scored with nine seconds remaining to give Nevada a 75-73 lead.

Musselman said a lot of people probably thought he would call a timeout moments earlier when Hall grabbed an offensive rebound, but he let his team play through the scenario that led to the game winner.

“My thought is, number one, I want the guys to know that I trust them,” Musselman said. “Hopefully we’ve defined roles well enough for guys to know who we want shooting the ball at the end of a game. Obviously we don’t want to bank a shot from 35 feet, but having said that there is a lot of times you watch a game and a team will struggle to inbound the ball or a pass will be deflected or the opposing team will have a timeout, and they’re able to make an adjustment and they might have played 10 straight possessions of man-to-man and then they go zone.

“We knew what defense we were going to see in the flow of the game; they weren’t going to change it. They didn’t have enough time to do anything.”

Musselman’s philosophy is a similar one shared by Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors. In one of his biggest wins with the Razorbacks, Neighbors opted not to call a timeout during the closing seconds of a game at Tennessee last season.

Trailing 79-78 after two made Tennessee free throws, Neighbors trusted the practice plan that called for Malica Monk to get the ball and drive to the basket. Monk did so, then crossed over a defender and hit a 12-foot jumper with 3.6 seconds remaining.

“I prefer to let the game play out,” Neighbors said. “I think there are so many things that can happen.

"When you have a team you trust, you let them play it out.”

Neighbors said he watched the end of Arkansas’ win at Georgia Tech.

“I was sitting there watching Coach Muss and thinking the same thing...he had a team he trusts,” Neighbors said. “He’s playing a really small rotation lineup. There’s probably nothing you’re going to say over there" in a timeout.

Jones said the Razorbacks had worked on late-game situations and credited Musselman with letting the team work through the final seconds Monday.

"The trust that we've gained from Coach Musselman, for him not to call a timeout in a situation like that on the road is incredible," Jones said.

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