Mason Jones’ Dead-Eye Accuracy Extends to Critiquing Arkansas vs Mississippi State, Too

Mason Jones, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Mississippi State
Credit: Craven Whitlow / @stocktonkings

With a chance to take the lead and tie the game in the closing seconds, Arkansas came up empty both times Saturday afternoon.

In fact, the Razorbacks didn’t even get a shot off in their final two possessions and dropped a heartbreaker 71-67 to Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.

Already playing without preseason All-SEC selection Trevon Brazile and Jalen Graham because of injuries, Arkansas didn’t have Keyon Menifield in the second half because of an injured hamstring and two key players — Tramon Mark and Khalif Battle — fouled out down the stretch.

Despite the limited options, the Razorbacks were down one and in position to take the lead when they turned the ball over with about 10 seconds remaining. Then, with 3.6 seconds left, they were fouled before getting a shot off that could have potentially tied the game.

The finish prompted one of Arkansas’ best players under head coach Eric Musselman, former SEC Player of the Year Mason Jones, to speak out on Twitter:

Jones, of course, knows a thing or two about wanting to take the shot in clutch situations. He’s gone from banking in 3s at the buzzer and dropping 35-plus points for Arkansas to lighting up the G League to the tune of 50.6% shooting from beyond the arc, prompting the Sacramento Kings to recently call him up.

The play that likely inspired Jones’ comment was the Razorbacks’ penultimate possession.

Coming out of a timeout with 23.5 seconds left and trailing 68-67, El Ellis drove to the right and kicked the ball out to Davonte Davis, who was all alone on the left wing.

“We were trying to run what we ran most of the second half, when we scored 38 points and scored 9 more points than we did in the first half,” Musselman said. “We made an adjustment with how we were running our middle pick-and-roll. We had a guard down pin for Khi Mitchell to come up to the top of the circle and set a screen for El Ellis to make a decision whether we wanted to go left or right.”

Despite being 2 of 3 from deep in the game, the senior passed up the 3-pointer and drove. Then, rather than pulling up for one of his patented mid-range shots, Davis tried dumping it off to Makhi Mitchell in the paint. The ball was knocked loose as it hit his hands, though, and the Bulldogs came away with a steal. The turnover was charged to Mitchell.

At that point, Arkansas was forced to immediately foul. Mississippi State knocked down both free throws, but it was still a three-point game.

After another timeout, this time with 7.7 seconds remaining, Ellis took the in bound pass and quickly dribbled up the floor. Before he could take a shot or even make a pass, though, he was fouled.

“We were looking to get a 3,” Musselman said. “We felt with seven seconds, full court, it’s going to take at least three seconds off the clock. If we were in the NBA and you could advance the ball, we certainly would’ve gone for two, but there’s no advancing the ball in men’s college basketball. There is in women’s college basketball, there is in the NBA, there is in the G-league, but there’s not here.”

The Razorbacks were left no choice but to try to make the first free throw and intentionally miss the second, hoping for an offensive rebound and stick back. Unfortunately, Ellis missed the first and Arkansas didn’t get the rebound after the intentional miss, essentially sealing the win for Mississippi State.

It was a tough ending to a game in which the Razorbacks showed a lot of fight in battling back despite trailing for much of the game — something that has been rare for them in SEC play this year.

“It’s tough because we feel like we were right there and now it’s just getting to the top of the mountain,” Battle said. “It’s tough. I can’t really put it into words, but we’re still going to keep working.”

Here are a few other takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s Arkansas vs Mississippi State game… 

Dominated on the Boards

The Razorbacks went into Saturday’s game with a shorthanded front court and it showed.

As mentioned above, Trevon Brazile missed his sixth straight game with knee soreness and Jalen Graham was declared out with a shoulder injury suffered in the blowout loss to Tennessee.

That forced Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman to deploy a small lineup, which worked against Georgia last week, but he had warned might not be as effective against other teams with bigger and more skilled 4 men.

Although the Razorbacks did a solid job against Mississippi State star big man Tolu Smith III, limiting him to 8 points and forcing him to commit 4 turnovers, forward Cameron Matthews feasted. The 6-foot-7 senior notched a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, plus added 3 assists and 1 block in 36 minutes.

Even with freshman Baye Fall getting some rare playing time, Arkansas had multiple big men on the floor for just 5 minutes and 26 seconds. The result was getting crushed on the boards 42-27.

Not only were the Razorbacks minus-15 in rebounding, but they barely grabbed half of the Bulldogs’ misses. Mississippi State had 17 offensive rebounds — leading to 13 second-chance points — compared to Arkansas’ 19 defensive rebounds.

“We did not have a power forward even available tonight, so we’re playing (Jeremiah) Davenport there and he’s played the small forward his whole life,” Musselman said. “Certainly the 17 offensive rebounds is problematic, but we also knew that from a size standpoint without Graham and without Brazile, that’s going to be an area of concern.”

Free Throw Discrepancy

Prior to the aforementioned empty possessions to end the game, Arkansas also had a chance to immediately answer the Josh Hubbard 3-pointer that put Mississippi State up by one.

With about 35 seconds left, Makhi Mitchell missed a hook shot, but Chandler Lawson grabbed the offensive rebound. Surrounded by four Bulldogs, he went up with it, but it didn’t fall and this time Mississippi State got the rebound.

Based on his body language, Eric Musselman was clearly upset that no foul was called on the play. That wasn’t the only time that happened, either. His frustration with the officiating boiled over after the game, as he brought it up on both his postgame radio interview and in his postgame press conference.

The veteran coach was not happy about Mississippi State taking 13 more free throws than Arkansas when the former is a physical team and the latter is one that traditionally thrives on getting to the line.

“We had three guys foul out,” Musselman said during his interview with Chuck Barrett. “They took 32 foul shots. It doesn’t matter how many clips you send in. It doesn’t matter how much you talk about it. That discrepancy — Coach Jans’ team, they are great defensively, they are physical — (but) that free throw discrepancy, it can’t happen.”

Up Next for Arkansas Basketball

The Razorbacks will be on the road again Tuesday, heading to College Station, Texas, for a rematch with Texas A&M.

With a blowout loss at Alabama on Saturday, the Aggies are now 15-10 overall and 6-6 in conference play. One of those losses came in Bud Walton Arena when Tramon Mark hit a shot in the closing seconds to give Arkansas a 78-77 win on Jan. 16.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN.

Other Arkansas Basketball Tidbits

  • Arkansas basketball started four guards — El Ellis, Davonte Davis, Tramon Mark and Khalif Battle — plus forward Chandler Lawson. It was the Razorbacks’ 15th different starting combination this season. “When we’re not playing as well as we would like to as a coach, I have a decision to make and the decision has been to continue to try and find combinations that put us in the best position to win,” Musselman said.
  • Makhi Mitchell continued his excellent play of late by scoring a career-high 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting and finishing one rebound shy of a double-double. He also had 2 blocks and 2 steals in his 23 minutes. “I thought Makhi Mitchell was outstanding,” Musselman said. “Makhi’s offense plus his defense was off the charts.”
  • Getting his most playing time since the Kentucky loss on Jan. 27, Khalif Battle scored 18 points in 34 minutes before fouling out with 2 minutes remaining. That’s the most he’s scored since also having 18 against Abilene Christian. Battle had reached double figures just twice in the previous 11 SEC games.
  • El Ellis dished four assists, which was his most since notching six against Duke on Nov. 29. He did it while committing just one turnover in 35 minutes.

Preview Arkansas basketball’s next game here:

Arkansas Basketball Postgame Interviews

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Arkansas vs Mississippi State Box Score


More on Mason Jones and Arkansas basketball from BoAS here…

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