Jones banks overtime deposit to lift Hogs over Georgia Tech

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Whether Mason Jones called backboard or not might be questioned, but what’s certain is his overtime three-pointer with .01 seconds on the clock not only counted but also lifted the Arkansas Razorbacks to a 62-61 road victory over Georgia Tech Tuesday night at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.

It was the lone Arkansas basket in an overtime period dominated by defense and erratic offensive play by the Hogs and Yellow Jackets (2-2), but it was enough to keep the Razorbacks (6-0) undefeated and give Eric Musselman his first road victory as the Razorbacks’ head coach.

Arkansas radio play-by-play man Chuck Barrett called the deep trey an answered prayer, and the description was apt. The Razorbacks, who led by as many as 10 points in the second half, had not scored a field goal in a 10-minute span that stretched from regulation down to the last tick of the clock in overtime.

Closely guarded by Georgia Tech’s Asanti Price, Jones got the shot off in the nick of time after receiving the pass from fellow Razorback sharpshooter Isaiah Joe who was double teamed near the top of the key.

Jones, who led the Razorbacks with 24 points, said on Arkansas’ postgame radio show that he knew he had 3 seconds to get the shot off.

“I had to do what I had to do, and God blessed me with a banked 3-pointer,” Jones said.

The junior from Desoto, Texas now joins a litany of Razorbacks to nail memorable game-winners like Ron Brewer, Marvin Delph, Scott Hastings, Charles Balentine, Lee Mayberry, and Scotty Thurman, among others.

Jones also had 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists on the night, while Joe finished with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 steals. Desi Sills added 11 points and 4 assists.

The basket was a much-needed shot in the arm to Razorback fans across the state who have suffered through a miserable football season that concludes at 1:30 p.m. Friday against Missouri in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The basketball victory, along with last weekend’s women’s cross country national championship by Lance Harter’s squad, gives Hog fans plenty to be thankful for this week as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday.

While defense has become a foreign language on the gridiron, Musselman’s first-year Hogs are making a living by denying passes, chasing shooters off the 3-point line, moving their feet, and contesting passes and shots like mad with lock-down man-to-man defense.

The Hogs’ defensive intensity kept them ahead most of the game and gave them a chance against a bigger Georgia Tech lineup. It also made up the difference for a relatively cool shooting performance.

The Razorbacks shot just 38.6 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from the three-point line. Most of time that type of shooting won’t only get you beat on the road, it might get you blown out.

However, the Razorbacks smothered the Yellow Jackets around the three-point line, holding them to just 18.2 percent on 2 of 11 shooting. Georgia Tech managed to shoot 41.5 percent from the field against the Hogs and outbound them 45-30. The Hogs defense also forced the Yellow Jackets into 23 turnovers to the Hogs’ 14.

Two of those turnovers came in the overtime period, which along with a couple of ill-advised shots made the victory more difficult to come by.

“We had some turnovers that were really, really costly against the zone that we’ll have to clean up,” Musselman said. “But just from a competitive nature, they did a great job.”

The Razorbacks missed 10 consecutive shots – four in overtime — before Jones banked in the game winner. Musselman would have liked to have seen better shot selection by his squad late in regulation and in overtime.

“I thought we had some ill-advised shots down the stretch maybe by guys in spots that we didn’t want shooting the basketball in,” Musselman said. “But you want to give guys freedom.”

What might be most impressive about the victory is that it was the type of game the Razorbacks routinely lost at this time last year. It could be argued a number of early season, close losses last season sent the Razorbacks to the NIT rather than the NCAA Tournament.

While it’s way too early to forecast the Razorbacks’ return to the Big Dance at this juncture, every victory inches the Hogs that much closer to an invitation.

When Georgia Tech big man James Banks (20 points and 13 rebounds) scored the first points of overtime with 21 seconds to play to give the Yellow Jackets a 61-59 lead, I thought the Razorbacks would wilt, but the Hogs delivered under pressure with Joe getting the ball to Jones for his game-winning shot.

Like Barrett and Jones, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner pointed to divine intervention, also calling Jones’ shot a “prayer.”

No doubt the shot bailed out the Razorbacks, who looked a little flustered offensively on their final possession and really throughout the overtime period.

Where their execution was fluid earlier in the game, the Hogs became more hesitant and less effective as the game tightened up. The victory should give the Hogs more confidence in similar late-game situations in the future, and no doubt Musselman and his staff will continue to stress who and when to shoot in crucial moments.

Some players need another lesson on why they might find themselves open. As legendary Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson use to say, “Sometimes you’re open because they want you to shoot.”

That said it was a rough shooting night even for the Hogs’ best shooters, and really after six games, it’s becoming more and more evident that these Razorbacks might not be a gifted shooting team.

The Razorbacks are averaging shooting 44.7 percent from the field and just 27.2 percent from the three-point line. Both are very mediocre percentages. As the Razorbacks begin to play better and more talented teams, shot selection will become more and more important.

Though small, Arkansas had held their own on the glass through five games, but Georgia Tech, with the type of size most SEC teams have or exceed, enjoyed a 15-rebound advantage. Arkansas made up for the difference by forcing turnovers. There will be nights this season where they won’t be able to make up that difference, or it won’t matter.

These are things Musselman knows better than I do, and he probably has some sort of plan to continue to minimize the Hogs’ deficiencies and maximize their proficiencies.

There’s enough time to worry about that later. Right now, it’s just fun as a Hog fan to revel in a last-second victory, an undefeated team, and to be thankful for answered prayers.

The Hogs are back in action at 4 p.m. Saturday against Northern Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena.