Guarding Perry a big concern for Razorbacks

Arkansas junior Mason Jones was named to the midseason list for the 2020 Citizen Naismith Trophy. / Photo:

Arkansas head basketball coach Eric Musselman has a message to anyone who will listen going into Saturday’s noon contest against Mississippi State on the SEC Network: Reggie Perry is going to score and he’s going to rebound.

The one-time Arkansas commitment stars for the Bulldogs, and he punished the Razorbacks in their 77-70 loss to MSU on Jan. 22 with 26 points and 13 rebounds.

The Hogs don’t have a physical answer for the 6-11, 250-pound power forward. Most teams don’t. However, Musselman said the Razorbacks hope to do a better job of dealing with the big man Saturday.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Mississippi State
When: 12 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network
Current Record: 16-8 (SEC 4-7)

Remaining schedule

Feb. 18 – at Florida
Feb. 22 – Missouri
Feb. 26 – Tennessee
Feb. 29 – at Georgia
March 4 – LSU
March 7 – at Texas A&M

“He’s going to score and he’s going to rebound,” Musselman said. “It’s how much we can cut into that or reduce that.”

The first place the Razorbacks will start no matter who guards Perry is not to foul him, particularly away from the basket. Perry sank 14 of 15 free throws against the Hogs at Humphrey Coliseum, getting more than half of his point total at the free-throw line.

Musselman said he reviewed Thursday every time the Hogs fouled Perry in that game and discovered most of the fouls were called outside the paint.

That’s something Musselman believes the Razorbacks can clean up or at least improve in a second outing against Mississippi State.

Razorback forwards Adrio Bailey, Reggie Chaney, and Jeantal Cylla all got a shot at guarding the Bulldogs’ big man, and they will likely all see time against him on Saturday.

Surprisingly, Musselman said Cylla, despite being the shortest of the three, was the most effective because he got low into Perry’s legs, playing defense at ball level. No doubt, Bailey and Chaney will be drilled on guarding Perry low like Cylla did in preparation for Saturday’s game that is expected to be played in front of a sold-out Bud Walton Arena.

After a two-game road swing through Missouri and Tennessee where the Hogs went 0-2, Musselman said he and the Razorbacks are glad to be home for the weekend and are expecting another raucous crowd.

“The atmosphere here gives us a great advantage,” Musselman said.

The Hogs have struggled of late at home or away, losing six of their last seven SEC games to fall to 16-8 on the season and 4-7 in the SEC, including three home losses to Kentucky, Auburn, and South Carolina.

Talk among fans has gone from hoping to earn a NCAA Tournament bid to just winning a game, since the Hogs’ slump that coincided with a knee injury to sharpshooter Isaiah Joe, who remains out indefinitely.

“I don’t anticipate anything changing in the next four to five days,” Musselman said. “[Joe] hasn’t done any running or work with us. We don’t see him. He’s in rehab.”

That’s not good news for the Razorbacks who have arguably played their worst basketball of the season in back-to-back road losses at Missouri (83-79 OT) and Tennessee (82-61).

The Razorbacks did not shoot well against Missouri, but still had a shot to win late in the game and in overtime, but the Hogs looked out of sync against the Vols.

Musselman said that bad losses happen from time to time, and noted that eight of the SEC’s 14 teams had suffered double-digit losses in league play in recent weeks.

He said the key for the Razorbacks, who shot just 30.6 percent from the field against Tennessee, is to knock down shots.

“We had enough open looks against Tennessee,” Musselman said. “We just didn’t make them.”

He added that other Razorbacks needed to score besides Mason Jones, who is being guarded differently by teams since Joe has been out with the knee injury.

With teams shading, double-teaming and collapsing on Jones, the Razorbacks can’t count on him scoring 35 a night. Musselman said the Razorbacks must continue to move the ball and find the open man, but added that the Hogs’ low assist total of 6 against Tennessee had as much to do with missing shots as it did with ball movement.

“It’s hard to pile up assists when you’re missing so many shots,” Musselman said.

With seven games left in the regular season, every game is big for the Hogs, but a victory over the Bulldogs would give the some momentum before going on the road to Florida at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The Razorbacks’ strong start to the season keeps them in the NCAA Tournament picture at the moment, but if the Hogs want to go to the Big Dance, they need to finish strong. However, Musselman only wants his Razorbacks concentrating on the game ahead of them.

Mississippi State is a big enough challenge for the Razorbacks to concern themselves with for the moment. A win Saturday would no doubt boost the Hogs’ confidence as they settle in for the final three weeks of the regular season.