FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Eric Musselman admits to being old school when it comes to earning playing time for his Arkansas team.
On Saturday, the Razorbacks’ coach used just seven players in the Razorbacks’ 64-46 win against Montana in front of 13,058 in Bud Walton Arena. It marked the third straight win for Arkansas, and the third straight game the Razorbacks (3-0) have held their opponent to fewer than 50 points.
“I think if you go look at the box scores at Nevada the last four years, you’re probably going to see seven-and-a-half or eight guys,” Musselman, who was 110-34 at Nevada, said. “Every coach, every program has their own philosophy on that. I’d rather have a tired Isaiah Joe shooting than somebody else. We’ll roll with however many players it takes to win on that night. I might be one of few coaches that believe that 30 college games, with 18- to 22-year old people that play one or two games per week are able to play 37 minutes.
“We’re not going to just pass out minutes to pass out minutes. You’ve got to earn them in practice and you’ve got to earn them understanding the game plan.”
Arkansas got a game-high 19 points from Mason Jones and Adrio Bailey had his first career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds to pace the Razorbacks. Jimmy Whitt Jr. had 14 points for Arkansas.
Offensively, Musselman said the Razorbacks struggled, but more than made up for it at the defensive end, limiting Montana (1-2) to 20 of 54 from the field, including just 4 of 20 from the 3-point line.
“We did not shoot the ball well at all,” Musselman said. “We weren’t pretty offensively tonight, but that’s what you have to do on nights when you can’t score. You have to up your defensive intensity. Montana really struggled from the 3-point area with our defense. I thought we did a great job closing out the shooters and not giving them any clean looks.”
The Razorbacks focused their attention on limiting Montana senior guard Sayeed Pridgett, who was coming in off a 30-point performance against MSU Northern. Musselman said during practice, every time the player on the scout team who portrayed Pridgett touched the ball, a piercing siren would go off.
“Not just if he caught the ball, but even if he tipped it,” said Bailey with a laugh. “We heard that siren the whole practice.”
Arkansas held Pridgett to 13 points, which was the goal coming in, Musselman said. Pridgett also had seven turnovers.
Arkansas led early and went up by double figures late in the first half before Montana battled back to get within 38-30 on Pridgett’s pull-up jumper from the right elbow with 12:55 left in the second half.
The Razorbacks responded, getting a 3-pointer from Joe with 9:35 left to put the Razorbacks up 47-33 and Arkansas cruised from there.
Montana: The Grizzlies only scored 18 points in the first half and did not make a 3-point attempt in the opening 20 minutes. They made just two 3-pointers in the game.
Arkansas: The season-opening three games have been historic for Arkansas. The 132 points the Razorbacks have allowed are the lowest since the mid-1940s that the team has allowed for the first three games of the season. Arkansas surrendered 43 to both Rice and North Texas before allowing 46 on Saturday.
GETTING THE POINT
Jones took the blame for allowing Montana to get an open layup in the first half on a back-door cut. The junior guard said Musselman gave him an earful when he came to the sideline.
“There were a couple of plays in the game where I messed up, but he just got on me and I fixed it the next possession,” Jones said. “That’s what I like about coach Muss. He pushes us hard and he coaches hard. He just wants the best out of us. He knows we’re going to rely on defense this year so he’s going to make sure we’re on our Ps and Qs.”
HE SAID IT
“He’s a fun guy,” Bailey said of Musselman. “He has a personality. I have a personality, too.”
In the first three games of the season, Arkansas ranks in the top five in the country in a number of defensive categories. … Joe, one of 20 players on the Jerry West Award Watch List, struggled offensively shooting just 2 of 13 from the floor, but his 3-pointer late in the game swung momentum back in Arkansas’ favor. … Besides limiting Montana to 2 of 16 from the 3-point line, Arkansas also forced 23 turnovers.
Montana will host Montana Tech on Monday.
Arkansas is at home Tuesday against Texas Southern.
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