FAYETTEVILLE – With Isaiah Jones injured and unable to complement him and the rest of the Razorbacks off their game, Mason Jones hit but 1 of 10 shots on Feb. 11 when Arkansas was 82-61 trashed by Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn.
Wednesday night with Joe healthy and scoring 22 points, Desi Sills scoring 13 off the bench and reserve become second time starting sophomore forward Ethan Henderson posting career highs nine rebounds and three shot blocks to complement him, Jones scored 37 points leading the Razorbacks’ rematch revenge 86-69 vanquishing of the Vols before 14,101 at Walton Arena. The 6-5 junior guard shot 11 of 19 from the field, including 3 of 7 treys, and 12 of 15 free throws.
Arkansas’ second consecutive SEC victory since a 5-game losing streak minus now two games returned former Fort Smith Northside star Joe improves its record to 18-10 overall in the SEC and has Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks bubbling about their on the bubble NCAA Tournament chances heading into Saturday’s SEC game at Georgia.
“We got our pro (Joe) back,” Jones said laughing with Joe and Henderson beside him on the postgame interview platform. “Now we feel we are getting things rolling. We want to do big things. We want to get to the tournament. That’s our goal.”
That next starts at Georgia, Musselman said but he was elated to review Wednesday’s win starting with Arkansas point guard Jimmy Whitt turning Tennessee point guard Santiago Vescovi from the 20-points-8-assists plague to the Hogs in Knoxville to Wednesday night scoring six points without a three and zero assists vs. five turnovers at Walton.
“I thought our focus the last few days was phenomenal,” Musselman said. “I thought defensively Jimmy Whitt was great on Santiago Vescovi. Obviously, Ethan Henderson’s energy on the glass was phenomenal tonight. Mason’s and Isaiah’s ability to draw free throws attempted.”
With Joe 12 of 12 and Jones’ 12 of 15 as the impetus, Arkansas Wednesday night made 27 of 33 free throws to Tennessee’s 17 of 27 while making 9 of 23 threes to Tennessee’s 4 of 17 and outscoring the Vols, 24-9 off turnovers.
“Defending the three-point line becomes so important for us,” Musselman said. “We did another great job of taking away the three-ball tonight.”
Coach Rick Barnes’ Vols, led Wednesday the 19,15 and 12 points by forward Jordan Bowden and John Fulkerson and guard Yves Pons, fall to 15-13, 7-8 in the SEC.
“Mason Jones was terrific,” Barnes said. ‘We had no answer for him. He did it inside, he got to the free throw line, which I respect that as much as anything.”
Barnes saw Jones and Joe complementing each other like ham and eggs.
“He (Joe) creates another gap for them, because you can’t get into the gap like you really want to,’ Barnes said. “When you’re playing a team that really likes to drive the ball you’ve got to give that help, and he (Joe) is a guy you can’t get off of him that far.”
Consequently the Vols kept fouling Jones and Joe.
“‘They hit some big shots,” Barnes said. “But it was the fouls where we were not doing our job on the defensive end. They do a good job driving the ball and getting into your body. We just weren’t good enough defensively to win a game on the road.”
Henderson, the last scholarship man off the bench much of this season, joined Jones, 15 first-half points as the foremost Razorbacks jumping Arkansas to a 14-1 lead after a Tennessee free throw scored the game’s first point.
Sophomore 6-8 forward Henderson of Little Rock Parkview in just his second start, grabbed four of his first-half’s six rebounds, posted one of his two first-half shot blocks and scored two on a putback for his only first-half shot during the 14-1 run culminated by a Jones trey at 15:18.
“We’ve known all year what Ethan’s capable of and now it’s his time to shine and he took it to heart,” Joe said. “He’s getting blocks and rebounds, offensive rebounds and that’s something we have not been that good at all year. He brings energy and got us off to a great start.”
Arkansas peaked the lead at 24-9 but got burned for a 8-0 Tennessee run.
Helped off the bench by two Sills threes and a Jalen Harris trey after a Harris steal, Arkansas re-upped the lead to 15 and finally 16 before finishing intermission ahead, 40-27.
Arkansas’ lead could have been bigger but for missing the front halves two and one and ones and usually reliable free throw shooter Jones missing consecutive free throws upon Tennessee committing its 10th foul of the half.
Arkansas forward Adrio Bailey scored the second half’s first basket then in 12 seconds committed his third and fourth fouls as Tennessee mounted a 9-0 run.
A Joe lay-up finally snapped the Arkansas skid at 16:07.
By 14:43 Tennessee cut it to 45-43.
The Razorbacks rallied on a Jones and one 3-point play, a Sills three after a Whitt steal and a Joe three after Henderson’s third shot block to go back up 11 and rolling.
Jones recalled the huddle after Tennessee cut it to two.
“Zay (Joe) was just like, ‘Remember what they did to us at their house,” Jones said. “That just fueled me, gave us more power. We all agreed in the huddle, ‘Let’s blow them out!”
And they did.
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action