What a way for the Arkansas Razorbacks to close out the calendar year and for that matter the decade.
Of course, I’m writing about the Hogs’ 71-64 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly last Sunday.
As a Hog fan, I still have to pinch myself.
If you asked me before the season started which nonconference game the Razorbacks were least likely to win, I would have said Indiana in a heartbeat.
It’s not that I thought Indiana was a top-flight team. The Hoosiers are probably a mid-level Big Ten team, but it’s tough to win on the road anywhere, and Assembly Hall isn’t just anywhere.It’s one of the hallowed halls of the college game, even if Indiana isn’t the powerhouse it once was in the 1970s and ’80s.
No matter how talented a team is, it’s difficult to win on the road, especially against a Power 5 school that has a distinct size advantage.
Now, the play of the Razorbacks this season would have tempered that response a little if I had been asked that question last week.
The Razorbacks have proven to be a solid defensive team with players like Mason Jones and Isaiah Joe, who can be explosive offensively at home and on the road. The Hogs are a team that trusts their first-coach Eric Musselman and his staff. They listen, they execute, they fill their roles, and they bust their tails.
I thought the Hogs had a chance to beat Indiana, but the Hoosiers’ size had me concerned. The Razorbacks had dealt effectively with teams with one big man, but frankly looking at the Hoosiers’ roster, their front court looked loaded. The 6-9 Trayce Jackson-Davis is a freshman difference-maker and 6-7 Justin Smith has been a solid performer in the Big 10. Joey Brunk was another wide body that had to be contended with.
I didn’t see how the Razorbacks would match up with them.
In the first half, the Razorbacks didn’t handle Jackson-Davis. He scored 16 of his 20 points in a fairly easy manner. He outran the Hogs in transition, and the Razorbacks didn’t seem to have an answer for him at halftime. Arkansas trailed just 38-33 at the half, but things looked a bit bleak going forward.
And here is where the Razorbacks shined. Musselman made adjustments and the Hogs executed them.
Musselman took Jimmy Whitt, who had stymied other big guys this season, off Jackson, and put the combination of Adrio Bailey and Reggie Chaney on him. He also adjusted Arkansas’ perimeter defense to give the Hoosiers a bit more daylight, tempting their guards and wings to shoot more and pass inside less.
The result was Jackson-Davis only took three shots in the second half and scored just 4 points, opposed to scoring 16 in the first half. The Hoosiers’ field-goal percentage also dipped from 46.9 percent in the first half to 37 percent in the second half.
One way to judge a coach’s effectiveness is to look at their halftime adjustments and to see how they work. The halftime adjustments by Musselman and his staff and the execution fo them by the Razorbacks had a distinct effect on the outcome of the game.
It also didn’t hurt that Joe and Jones both got hot shooting the rock when Musselman had them work a pick-and-roll game at the top of the key that gave them both enough air to knock down pivotal three-pointers.The Hogs erased a 9-point deficit and created a 7-point victory with a 19-3 second-half run.
The Hogs erased it quick, too. It took me by surprise watching it, and it definitely stunned the Hoosiers as they watched a game they seemed to firmly control melt away through their fingers.
As a Hog fan, I also loved Musselman’s feistiness on his radio show following the game. Frankly, it reminded me a little bit of the fire Nolan Richardson used to bring to press settings back in the Hogs’ hey days.
Musselman to radio host Chuck Barrett:
Every night people say, ‘How is Arkansas gonna match up with fill-in-the-blank?’ Well, you know what — how are they gonna match up with us? Because in reality, Mason Jones at the four spot is a nightmare for opposing teams.
‘How do we match up? How are we going to be able to hold our own on the glass?’ It’s ‘We don’t play enough guys, so we’re going to get tired.’ Well, who got tired tonight? The team with all the depth got tired. It wasn’t Arkansas.
It’s great to hear a coach have that much passion about the performance of his team. It was a big road win that spruces up the Hogs’ NCAA resumé going into SEC play, which tips off Saturday at 6 p.m. in a sold-out Bud Walton Arena against Texas A&M. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
Sold-out is a beautiful adjective to hear concerning Razorbacks athletics after the last decade which was more tepid than it should have been.
Musselman and his gritty Razorbacks have injected some life back into the program in a very short time. Hopefully ticket-holders will fill their seats and raise the rafters at Walton Arena like old times.