This time, the Arkansas Razorbacks finished the job after holding a 5-point lead on the road with just over 40 seconds remaining, and in doing so they closed out the decade with a 19-3 run that buried the Indiana Hoosers, 71-64, on Sunday in front of 14,892 fans at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind.
Sophomore guard Isaiah Joe of Fort Smith scored a game-high 24 points — including 18 second-half points for the second-consecutive game — and his 4-of-4 free throw shooting in the final 27 seconds sealed the victory. Junior guard Mason Jones finished with 21 points — 15 in the second half — and his back-to-back dagger 3-point baskets in a span of 46 seconds erased a one-point Arkansas deficit to give the Hogs the lead for good at 67-62 with 2:04 to play. Joe and Jones came in as Arkansas’s leading scorers on the season, and the duo combined for 33 second-half points.
Arkansas (11-1) picked up its first-ever road win against a Big Ten team as the Hogs are off to their best start to a season since the 2016-17 team won 11 of its first 12 games. The Razorbacks are now 3-2 all-time against Indiana, including a 2-1 record against the Hoosiers in the past 13 months. Arkansas is now 2-1 in true road games, and 3-1 in games played away from Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
In the Hogs’ last road game at Western Kentucky, they led the Hilltoppers 71-66 with 43 seconds remaining in the game before faltering down the stretch and losing in overtime, 86-79. This time, Arkansas made all the plays down the stretch as it outscored Indiana (11-2) by 16 points in the final 7:49 of the game after falling behind 61-52. In that game-winning stretch, Arkansas’s defense held Indiana to 1-of-11 field goals while forcing 3 turnovers as the Hoosiers managed only 1-of-3 free-throw shooting.
“It was awesome … can’t wait to get back to Fayetteville,” first-year Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said during his post-game radio interview. “We just talked to the team and said Bud Walton (Arena) should be rockin’ on Saturday against (Texas) A&M as we head into SEC play. But this is a great way to go into conference play without a question. You look at this place historically — the last 50 years or whatever — it’s one of the hardest buildings to win in. We just kind of hung around and hung around.
“Every guy (Hog) who checked in the game got a rebound, that is huge for us. I thought we scrapped around … One of the timeouts late — maybe with about 10 minutes — I said we’ve got to start knocking down some three’s. That’s where our advantage was going to be, was to space the floor and try to hit as many three’s as we possibly could get.”
Arkansas made a season-high 12 three-pointers on 31 attempts (38.7%), and Joe made 4 of his game-high 6 triples in the second half as he moved into eighth-place all-time in made 3’s (153) at Arkansas. He’s increased his scoring output in each of Arkansas’s last four games — 18, 20, 21, and now 24 points — while raising his 3-point shooting as he made a combined 20-of-55 for 36.4% in that same span. Joe also had 5 rebounds in his 38 minutes.
“These are the games you live for,” Joe said. “To be able to come out to these big games and win them, and be exhausted and leave it all out on the floor. We started making a run, and we could tell that they were wearing down. Coach Musselman has told us to be mentally tough out there … we couldn’t let up, we had to finish the game out strong. We knew we had to play the last three minutes as hard as we could.
“We had to pull it out down the stretch, and we had to make our free throws. And that’s what we did, we ended up getting a win.”
On his birthday, sophomore guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro was questionable due to a knee injury but started and finished with 10 points before fouling out late in the game. According to Hogstats.com, Arkansas is now 9-0 in the last 35 years when a Razorback scores 10 or more points on his birthday.
Indiana took its biggest lead of the game, 50-39, early in the second half, and though Arkansas would pull within 52-50 after Joe splashed three of his triples to spark an 11-2 Hogs run, the Hoosiers ran their lead back up to nine, 61-52, on a Joey Brunk lay-in with 8:08 to play.
But it was all Arkansas from there. Jones scored on the interior twice, Sills drained a 3-pointer, Joe hit a game-tying fadeaway in the mid-range, then Jones popped his final 2 of 4 made triples as the Razorbacks reclaimed the lead at 67-62 with 2:04 to play. Those last two 3’s by Jones were reminiscent of his back-to-back bombs in the final 1:24 that moved the Hogs past Valparaiso, 72-68, in North Little Rock in Arkansas’s last game played on Dec. 21. Against Indiana, Jones also had 6 rebounds and 6 assists in his 31 minutes.
Arkansas shot only 25-of-62 from the field (40.3%) against the bigger Hoosiers. The Hogs were 9-of-12 at the free throw line for 75.0%, but until Joe made 4-of-4 freebies in the final 27 seconds they had not attempted a free throw in the second half.
Arkansas came in with the second-best 3-point field goal defense in the nation, and the Hogs held Indiana to 5-of-21 shooting (23.8%) for the game. Arkansas was plus-3 in turnovers (14-11) while staying relatively close on the boards at minus-6 (41-35). Indiana shot 25-of-59 from the field for 42.4%, but the Hoosiers were only 9-of-18 from the free thow line for 50.0%, which was 20% below their season percentage.
As expected, Indiana won points-in-the-paint (34-20), but Arkansas won fast-break points (15-4) and surprisingly won second-chance-points (12-9).
Senior guard Jimmy Whitt, Jr. and senior forward Adrio Bailey both played 33 minutes as they combined for 10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. Both were especially effective on the defensive end of the floor as the undersized Hogs scratched and clawed for 40 minutes. Sophomore forward Reggie Chaney chipped in 6 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes
Indiana freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis dominated in the paint in the first half as he scored 16 points to stake the Hoosiers to a 38-33 lead at the break, but Arkansas altered its post defense at halftime and held the 6-9 forward to only 4 points in the second half. Jackson-Davis finished with a team-high 20 points to go with 6 rebounds. Senior 6-3 guard Devonte Green — he scored 18 points (including 4-of-9 from 3) to lead Indiana over Arkansas, 63-60, in March in Bloomington — finished with 14 points on Sunday as he made 4 of Indiana’s 5 three-pointers.
“We just kept talking about how we wanted to try to limit the touches of No. 4 (Jackson-Davis),” Musselman said. “I thought we did a great job of fronting, changing his angles. At halftime, we changed our post defense and I think he only had four points in that second half. I thought that was a big key to try to slow down their offense a little bit. The most interesting thing to me is every night people say ‘How is Arkansas going to match-up with’ fill in the blank. Well you know what, how are they (opponents) going to match up to us? Because in reality, Mason Jones in the 4-spot is a nightmare for opposing teams.
“Again, it’s like ‘How do we match up?’ It’s ‘Are we going to hold up on the glass?’ It’s ‘We don’t play enough guys so wee’re going to get tired.’ Well, who got tired tonight? The team with all the depth got tired, it wasn’t Arkansas.”
Junior guard Al Durham came in averaging 12.0 points and 3.1 assists for Indiana, but he played only 5 minutes and was ejected in the first half after a flagrant-2 foul call for an intentional elbow to the face of Bailey. Jones picked up a technical-foul for Arkansas after arguing a call, resulting in his fourth personal foul with 9:37 left in the game.
Arkansas opens up SEC play on Saturday by hosting Texas A&M at BWA in Fayetteville. Game time is 6 p.m. CT and will be televised by SEC Network.