Struggling Hogs in a tough spot

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman looks toward the playing floor in the Razorbacks' game against Mississippi State at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on February 15, 2020.
Photo by David Beach
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman looks toward the playing floor in the Razorbacks' game against Mississippi State at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on February 15, 2020.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The University of Arkansas basketball team will try and break a four-game losing streak at an SEC venue where the Razorbacks haven't won in 25 years.

The last time Arkansas (16-9, 4-8 SEC) beat Florida (16-9, 8-4) in ExacTech Arena -- site of their matchup at 6 tonight -- Corliss Williamson scored 20 points and Clint McDaniel added 17 to lead the defending national champion Razorbacks to a 94-85 victory on Feb. 28, 1995.

Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman, 55, was a head coach in the CBA with the Rapid City (S.D.) Thrillers at the time. Gators Coach Mike White, 42, was a senior at Jesuit High School in New Orleans.

Since then, Arkansas has lost 13 consecutive games at Florida.

Some of the Razorbacks' losses have been close, including Michael Frazier hitting two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to lift the Gators to a 57-56 victory in 2015 after a questionable foul call on Alandise Harris. Arkansas also played Florida tough on the road in losing 82-74 in 2005, 79-72 in 2007 and 87-83 in 2016.

Other games during the Gators' home winning streak against the Razorbacks have been blowouts, including Florida's 75-43 victory in 2011.

"I know it's going to be a tough game," Musselman said. "Our players know it's going to be a tough game.

"But having said that, we've just got to get ready and compete and play as hard as we possibly can. Obviously, Florida's a really talented team and a team that plays really well at home and has a great student section."

Musselman didn't experience more than back-to-back losses the previous four seasons in leading Nevada to a 110-34 record. The Razorbacks' current four-game slide includes three losses by a combined eight points.

Arkansas' losing streak started with Auburn's 79-76 overtime victory at Walton Arena. The Razorbacks then lost 83-79 in overtime at Missouri. It was the first time in 97 seasons that Arkansas lost back-to-back games in overtime.

The Razorbacks then lost 82-61 at Tennessee -- their only loss this season by more than seven points -- before another excruciating defeat, 78-77, to Mississippi State in Walton Arena when Abdul Ado scored on a tip-in with 0.6 seconds left.

"It's been difficult, just because there's been so many close games other than the Tennessee game," Musselman said. "Usually teams have two or three bad games on the road. We've had one. But this game [tonight] is a big concern for sure."

Arkansas junior guard Mason Jones, who is averaging 20.8 points to lead the SEC, said it's not too late for the Razorbacks to turn around their season.

"I definitely feel we've still got the chance to finish strong," Jones said after scoring 38 points against Mississippi State on Saturday. "Who knows? We might have a good path on the way. We might have a five-game winning streak. We just have to keep preparing one day at a time."

Jones has scored 30 or more points in six games this season, including 41 against Tulsa and 40 against Auburn. He's averaging 28.2 points over the past six games.

"He's a different player than he was a year ago," White said. "He's even a different player since Isaiah Joe went out with his aggressiveness and the level at which they're playing through him.

"I don't know how you guard the guy. The way that he shoots it off the catch, the way that he can create his own shot. His strength, his length, his ability to separate, to get his own jump shot and also get to the rim."

The Razorbacks' losing streak coincides with the loss of starting sophomore guard Isaiah Joe, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Feb. 4. Joe will miss his fifth consecutive game tonight, but Musselman said he practiced Monday.

"Hopefully, whether it's in the next two to three games, we'll have him back," Musselman said. "Until then, we've just got to play as hard as we possibly can."

Jones said the Razorbacks are doing their best while waiting on Joe's return.

"Without Isaiah we just have to keep fighting and knowing that when Isaiah does come back, he's going to be 100%," Jones said.

Musselman has some familiarity with the Gators, who have three starters -- sophomores Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson -- back from a team that beat Nevada 70-61 last season in an NCAA Tournament first-round matchup in Des Moines, Iowa.

"I think that we understand some of their sets, we understand that Coach White's a really good coach," Musselman said. "We understand that Nembhard's a really good post-up player. He can go to the basket, he's got a great change of pace and can make timely threes.

"We understand that Johnson at that four spot's a really tough matchup, a great dribble-driver. He's an improved three-point shooter. Noah Locke, we know he's a dead-eye shooter."

The Gators have added 6-10 Kerry Blackshear, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech who is averaging team-highs of 13.6 points and 7.7 rebounds.

Blackshear also took a recruiting visit to Arkansas, but the Orlando, Fla., native decided to go home and play for Florida.

Musselman managed a smile when asked how the season might be changed if Blackshear had transferred to Arkansas.

"Things could have been a lot different," he said. "But I'm sure [Blackshear] made the right decision for him. He's a really good player, and he's playing for a really good coach at a really good program."

Musselman has used primarily a six-man rotation since Joe's injury, but nine Razorbacks played in the previous game against Mississippi State, including a minute for senior forward Jamario Bell, who joined the basketball team Nov. 30 after playing football for five years.

"We'll probably have different lineups than we've had some times during this season," Musselman said of tonight's game. "We've just got to keep searching and trying new things."

Arkansas men at Florida

WHEN 6 p.m. Central

WHERE ExacTech Arena, Gainesville, Fla.

RECORDS Arkansas 16-9, 4-8 SEC; Florida

16-9, 8-4

SERIES Florida leads 25-12

RADIO Razorback Sports Network

TELEVISION ESPNU

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS

FLORIDA

POS., NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG

G Andrew Nembhard, 6-5, So. 11.7 2.8

G Noah Locke, 6-3, So. 10.8 2.8

G Scottie Lewis, 6-5, Fr. 8.1 4.0

F Kerry Blackshear, 6-10, Sr. 13.6 7.7

F Keyontae Johnson, 6-5, Jr. 13.2 6.6

COACH Mike White (105-62 in five seasons at Florida, 206-102 overall in nine seasons)

ARKANSAS

POS., NAME, HT., YR. PPG RPG

G Mason Jones, 6-5, Jr. 20.8 6.0

G Jimmy Whitt, 6-3, Sr. 14.8 4.8

G Desi Sills, 6-2, So. 10.1 2.9

F Adrio Bailey, 6-6, Sr. 6.6 4.5

F Reggie Chaney, 6-8, So. 5.1 4.1

COACH Eric Musselman (16-9 in first season at Arkansas, 126-43 overall in five seasons)

TEAM COMPARISON

Florida Arkansas

72.8 Points for 74.4

66.8 Points against 67.2

+3.3 Rebound margin -6.4

+1.3 Turnover margin +4.8

45.0 FG pct. 43.7

34.4 3-PT pct. 31.7

72.5 FT pct. 72.7

CHALK TALK Arkansas junior guard Mason Jones leads the nation in free throws made (172) and attempted (208) after hitting 18 of 21 against Mississippi State on Saturday. … The Razorbacks have lost four consecutive games since winning 82-78 at Alabama onFeb. 1. … Razorbacks senior forward Adrio Bailey is shooting 46.2% on three-pointers (12 of 26) after hitting 2 of 3 against Mississippi State. He’s shooting 50% on three-pointers (8 of 16) in SEC games. … Arkansas continues to lead the nation in three-point defense at 23.5%. … Florida sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the Gators’ 66-50 victory over the Razorbacks in the SEC Tournament last season.

Sports on 02/18/2020

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