Junior guard Mason Jones didn’t stay perfect at the free throw line Monday night in Atlanta, but he was flawless on a step-back, deep-NBA-range 3-pointer that banked in with 0:00.1 remaining in overtime to send Arkansas to the winner’s circle, 62-61, over host Georgia Tech in another defensive-grind game from which the Razorbacks emerged unbeaten.
Jones scored Arkansas’s final basket in regulation with 5:57 remaining — part of his personal 5-point possession that included two made technical-foul free throws — and he added two more free throws at 2:22 as he accounted for the Hogs final 7 points in regulation before his dagger to close out the game in overtime. The Yellow Jackets’ scored their only overtime points on a James Banks lay-in with 21 seconds left that gave Tech a 61-59 lead, setting the stage for Jones’s game-winning triple that proved to be the Hogs’ only points in the extra period.
“Ah, it was a good night,” said Jones, who finished with a game-high 24 points (including the Hogs’ final 10 points) to go with 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 assists. “You know we had to go to overtime for the extra minutes, so we knew we wanted to grind hard on defense and continue to try to make a shot. Zai (Isaiah Joe) passed me the ball and I knew there was 3 seconds left, so I had to do what I had to do. And God blessed me with a bank 3-pointer.”
The final possession: Jones dribbled up-court, passed to Joe who was immediately double-teamed, then Joe passed back out to near the mid-court line to Jones, who received the pass at 0:05, drove toward the right wing, and launched his bomb with 1.8 seconds left on the game clock that found its way off the window and through the basket. With both defenses locked in and grinding, both offenses struggled in the extra period, combining for 0-of-8 shooting, 0-of-1 free throws, and 5 turnovers before Banks and Jones traded baskets in the final 21 seconds.
The win moved Arkansas to 6-0 on the season, and Eric Musselman became only the second first-year head coach in Razorbacks history to start 6-0 (Eugene Lambert, 1942-43). It was Arkansas’s first win over the Yellow Jackets since 1961, halting a five-game losing streak against Tech in the series. And, it was the Hogs’ first road win over an ACC opponent in nearly 21 years.
“That was unbelievable, two teams really really competing, and the defense won the game for us,” Musselman said. “They extended their zone, we got out of rhythm, took some bad shots, had some crucial turnovers. Having said that, did just enough to win. And really really proud of the defense again tonight.
“The big thing is, again, defending from 3. Georgia Tech gets two 3-balls tonight. They go 2-of-11 … just a phenomenal job defending the 3. When you think about (Michael Devoe) averaging 20-something points a game, he gets held to 12 points. And then he’s got to take 16 shots to get the 12 points. That’s incredible defense by Jimmy Whitt.”
Going up against a bigger opponent on the road with its own formidable defense — Tech was tops in the nation blocked shots and No. 4 in overall field-goal defense — Arkansas proved its nationally ranked defense could travel and hold up. The Hogs came in tops in NCAA Division 1 basketball in 3-point defense (13.6%), and that stood up as Georgia Tech (2-2) managed only 2-of-11 from 3 for 18.2%.
Arkansas also entered the game top 5 to 10 nationally in multiple defensive categories — overall field-goal defense, steals, scoring defense, and turnover margin — and the Razorbacks were stingy in holding the Yellow Jackets 13 points below their season average, forcing 23 turnovers for a plus-9 advantage, and limiting overall field-goal shooting to 41.5% which was below the Jackets’ season shooting percentage. Georgia Tech did manage to become the first opponent to reach 60 points in a game against Arkansas.
Tech’s defense was as good as advertised, too, as the Jackets dominated the glass (45-30) while limiting the Hogs to 22-of-57 field goals (38.6%), including 7-of-23 from 3 (30.4%). Arkansas came in as the superior free-throw shooting team (79.1% to Tech’s 62.5%), but both teams managed to shoot just north of 68% for the game.
For Jones, who came in a perfect 27-of-27 on freebies for the season and had made 36 in a row going back to last season, he missed his first free throw opportunity and went 7-of-10 at the line for the game, including two misses on front-ends of 1-and-1 opportunities — the last of which came at 1:10 in OT with both teams stuck on 59 points each. Jones shot 7-of-12 from the field (including 3-of-7 from 3).
Sophomore guard Isaiah Joe — he and Jones came in as the Hogs’ co-leading scorers at 17.4 points per game each — scored all 13 of his points in the first half, but he was strong defensively throughout as all 9 of his rebounds came on the defensive end to go with 5 steals. Both numbers were team-highs.
Sophomore guard Desi Sills had his best game so far in ’19-20, recording a season-high 11 points (5-of-9 field goals including 1-of-3 from 3) to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal.
Senior Jimmy Whitt, Jr. — on fire shooting the ball (11-of-14 from the field and 2-of-3 from the free throw line) for a career-high-tying 24 points in Friday’s 77-56 win over South Dakota — was cold against Tech on Monday as he finished 3-of-12 field goals and 0-of-2 free throws for 6 points to go with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. Senior forward Adrio Bailey finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal.
Arkansas’s starting five accounted for all 62 of the Hogs’ points.
Tech was led by Banks, the 6-10 senior and former Texas Longhorn (20 points, 13 rebounds, but only 1 block for the big man who came in averaging 5.7 swats per game). Devoe, a 6-5 sophomore guard, came in as the ACC’s leading scorer (26.0), but fouled out late in overtime after scoring only 12 points on 4-of-16 field goals and 4-of-6 free throws. Junior 5-10 guard Bubba Parham had 10 points after starting in place of injured junior guard Jose Alvarado, who torched Arkansas last year with 20 points and 9 rebounds in a 59-55 Jackets’ win in Fayetteville.
Arkansas started well from 3 as Joe made all three of his triples in the first 14 minutes of the game, the last of which capped an 11-0 Arkansas run that was good for a 27-19 lead with 5:57 remaining before halftime.
From there, the game devolved into a sloppy grind as Arkansas and Georgia Tech scuffled to a 33-30 score at the break with the Hogs in the lead. The Hogs started fast in the second half, using an 8-2 spurt for a 41-32 lead. Tech would battle back with interior scoring to pull even at 50-all, but Sills drove into Banks for a tough finish at the basket to give Arkansas a 52-50 lead, and that was followed by Jones’ one-man 5-point possession that was aided by a technical foul call on Tech head coach Josh Pastner, resulting in a 7-0 run for a 57-50 Hogs lead.
With Arkansas failing to score a basket in the final 5:57 of regulation, the Yellow Jackets scratched out an ugly 9-2 run to force the game into overtime. Devoe and Banks were only 2-of-4 at the free throw line in the final 1:46 of regulation, but that was good enough to tie the game. Whitt missed an off-balance 14-footer at :03 that could have won the game for Arkansas in regulation.
Arkansas closes out the November portion of its ’19-20 schedule with a home game Saturday against Northern Kentucky (4 p.m. CT, live-stream via SEC Network Plus), marking the fourth and final home game in a series of matchups billed as the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow.