FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)With a week to think about his worst shooting performance of the season, Arkansas junior guard Mason Jones said he just focused on one thing heading into Saturday’s game against Tulsa: Bounce back.
Jones shot 1-of-9 from the floor in an 86-79 road loss to Western Kentucky last Saturday when he scored just 8 points in Arkansas’ first loss of the season.
It was a complete reversal against Tulsa as Jones hit his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer 57 seconds in and finished with a career-high 41 as the Razorbacks rolled to a 98-79 win.
”I’m just glad we were able to bounce back and get the win,” Jones said. ”That was all I thought about this week – bounce back. It was good to see that my energy led the way and it started off early. I wanted to let them know that I’m here and I want to set the tone. I knew when I set the tone good, the team would follow.”
Arkansas (9-1) built a 16-point first-half lead, then held off a Tulsa run midway through the second half that saw the Razorbacks’ lead trimmed to single-digits.
Jones did his damage in a variety of ways, including five 3-pointers and three three-point plays on slashing drives to the basket. He also had six rebounds, four assists and four steals.
”His practice habits this week were awesome,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. ”He was locked in. I thought he was really good defensively. I thought he did a great job of mixing up perimeter shots with three-balls. As important as anything was his 13 free throws attempted, but he got it going tonight.”
Jones did not do it alone. Fellow backcourt mate Isaiah Joe scored 20 points and hit three of his first four 3-point attempts to help the Razorbacks grab an early double-digit lead that swelled to as much as 16 points with a little over 12 minutes remaining in the first half.
Joe, who was 8-of-14 from the floor and had four 3-pointers, said the week between games was big to help the team recharge from the loss to Western Kentucky.
”The more time, the better,” Joe said. ”You get a longer time to work on new sets, work on all the mistakes you made in the last game. Having a week off, it gives our body time to recuperate and get as much treatment as possible and get a lot of shots up.”
Tulsa (8-3) rallied midway through the second half and pulled within nine points at 68-59 on Darien Jackson’s breakaway layup with 11:49 left, but Jones had an answer, going on a personal 10-0 run that bumped Arkansas’ lead to 81-61 with 8:07 left. In the run, Jones had a three-point play, a 3-pointer and four straight free throws.
Tulsa coach Frank Haith said his team had no answer for Joe and Jones.
”They got it going early and we just could not stop them,” Haith said. ”I thought when we cut it to nine, we were playing a lot more aggressive, but then we hit a stretch there were we didn’t score and they got it going again.”
Elijah Joner led Tulsa with 19 points and Martins Igbanu finished with 18.
Arkansas had only two first-half turnovers and just eight for the game. It’s an area Musselman said his team will need to continue to focus on with just two nonconference games left on the schedule before heading into SEC play on Jan. 4.
”Valuing the ball is so important,” Musselman said. ”I even talked to the team, and I know my dad would be rolling over thinking about it, but I’d rather take a bad shot rather than turn the ball over. We use a soccer term – shots on goal. We have to get shots on goal. They at least have a chance to go in. And your defense can get set up. When you have live-ball turnovers, it’s really difficult to win.”
With just five seconds left in the first half, Jones got the ball near midcourt and launched a shot at the buzzer that hit the back of the iron and bounced high above the backboard before coming back down through the rim for a 50-34 lead.
Jones thought he was also fouled on the play but didn’t get the call.
HE SAID IT
Jones was 12-of-13 from the free-throw line, but missed his last attempt to break his string. Even with a comfortable lead and a 41-point scoring night, he was still thinking about that one miss.
”I pride myself on not missing free throws, so that hurt,” he said with a laugh.
Tulsa plays at Colorado State on Saturday.
Arkansas hosts Valparaiso in Little Rock on Saturday.
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