FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Eric Musselman says his Razorbacks are a “different team” since shooting guard Isaiah Joe’s victorious return last Saturday against Missouri broke a five-game losing streak during his injury induced absence.
Against the Tennessee Volunteers, Musselman would expect the Razorbacks to be a different team even if Joe was still idled recovering from his Feb. 4 arthroscopic knee surgery.
Coach Rick Barnes’ Vols, 15-12 overall, 7-7 in the SEC, visit Walton Arena in Wednesday’s 7:30 SEC Network televised SEC rematch against the Razorbacks, 17-10, 5-9.
Of the Razorbacks 10 losses, only against Tennessee, an 82-61 blowout Feb. 11 in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the third of the five games Joe missed convalescing, did they put forth an effort significantly less than their opponent.
It’s not so much revenge against Tennessee, but atoning for their only start to finish surrender of the season fueling the Razorbacks Wednesday.
“We didn’t play with any energy,” Arkansas senior forward Adrio Bailey said. “We didn’t play with any enthusiasm. I feel like we came out flat.”
Bailey said it was the lone time these Razorbacks didn’t play with “respect” for the game they play and that they are fueled “in our building” to make amends.
Between the change of venue and the presence of Joe, a game high 21 points in last Saturday’s 78-68 SEC over Missouri at Walton and also lending a non-fouling defensive presence as important as his offense, Musselman said, Tennessee coach Barnes said he knows he’ll see a “different” Arkansas team in Fayetteville than he saw in Knoxville.
With Joe and his 3-point shooting threat the Vols can’t swarm Arkansas 20-points per game scorer Mason Jones, only 1 shooting of 10 in Knoxville, and Jimmy Whitt like they did on Feb. 11.
“He spreads the floor, because he is going to shoot it deep,” Barnes said Monday in Knoxville. “He’s got great range and they have given him the ultimate green light to get shots and they work to get him shots. They will be a different team there then when they were here.”
Musselman touts his different team but frets if the Vols on Wednesday will be the same team plus one that they were against Arkansas in Knoxville.
Starting Vols guard Josiah-Jordan James was idled by injury when the Vols vanquished Arkansas. James is back and starting.
“He’s a really good player,” Musselman said. “But I can’t even be concerned with him right now, because we’ve got to figure out how to stop the guys that were actually in uniform for them last time.”
Tennessee outrebounded Arkansas, 40-29 and committed three less turnovers 11 versus 14, while five Vols scored in double figures.
Santiago Vescovi, the freshman point guard from Uruguay, orchestrated slaughtering the Hogs.
Vescovi not only tallied a game-leading 20 points but dished a game-leading eight assists.
“Their point guard really hurt us bad,” Musselman said. “He did whatever he wanted. He shot threes (3 of 4). He assisted and got his team great looks. We had no answer whatever for Vescovi. Somehow we’ve got to be able to find an answer to try to beat them.”
With Vescovi on a roll, 6-foot-6 Vols Jordan Bowden, 16 points and six rebounds, Yves Pons, 12 points and often defensively stifling Jones, 6-9 forward John Fulkerson, 14 points and eight rebounds, and off the bench 6-8 and 6-7 forwards Olivier Nkamhoua, 10 points and six rebounds, and Davonte Gaines, seven rebounds and six points, all rolled, too.
Bowden menaces inside and out.
“He annihilated us, too,” Musselman said. “We had no one to guard him either. Bowden, obviously is a high-volume 3-point shooter and he’s really good in transition. He’s really good in mid-range. How are we going to stop Fulkerson? And what are we going to do with Pons on the offensive glass? Are we going to be able to keep the point guard in front of us? All those things are a concern because the (82-61) score would indicate that they caused us a lot of problems.”
Likely the Hogs must be the “different” team that Musselman hopes they are to settle the score Wednesday.