Tigers Host Razorbacks In SEC Basketball Contest

8 P.M. Start Wednesday At The Maravich Center; LSUTix.net

by Kent Lowe | Sr. Assoc. Communications Director
Tigers Host Razorbacks In SEC Basketball Contest

BATON ROUGE – The LSU Tigers, fresh off a Southeastern Conference road win on Saturday, now looks to keep momentum moving in the right direction when they face the Arkansas Razorbacks Wednesday night at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. 

Game time is just after 8 p.m. with tickets on sale throughout the day at the LSU Athletic Ticket Office and beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the upper concourse ticket windows of the Maravich Center. LSU Students are admitted free of charge with a valid student ID.

Tom Hart and Jimmy Dykes will call the game on ESPNU while the Voice of the Tigers Chris Blair and former coach John Brady will describe the action on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network (Guaranty Media Eagle 98.1 FM the flagship in Baton Rouge).

The Tigers are 9-4 and 1-0 in the SEC, while Arkansas is 12-1 and 1-0 in the league. LSU defeated Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday, 78-64, while Arkansas won its league opener at home against Texas A&M, 69-59. LSU has won two straight contests, while the Razorbacks are on a four-game winning streak. 

LSU was led in its win by Javonte Smart with 21 points, while Skylar Mays had 17 and Trendon Watford 15 points. Darius Days had 11 rebounds to lead the Tigers.

Arkansas was paced by Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones who had 17 points each with Desi Sills getting 13 and Jimmy Whitt, Jr., 12.

Jones leads the Razorbacks averaging 19.5 points a game with Joe at 17.4, Whitt at 13.4 and Sills at 10.0.

Last year the teams played two exciting close games with LSU winning in Fayetteville, 94-88, in overtime and Arkansas winning, 90-89, in Baton Rouge. 

Eric Musselman is in his first year as head coach at Arkansas after four years at Nevada. He was an associate head coach on the Tigers staff in 2014-15. 

Coach Wade met with the media on Monday afternoon and here are some of his comments:

Opening statement…
“We’re getting ready for Arkansas. They’re playing as well as anybody in our league when you look at their record and what they’re doing, especially defensively. It’s going to be important that we value the ball and handle the ball. The last couple games we haven’t turned it over a whole lot. Went on the road (at Tennessee) and only turned it over eight times and you give yourself a good opportunity to win. We didn’t turn it over a whole lot against Liberty either, which was critical. We’re going to have to handle the ball really, really well against Arkansas and not give them a whole bunch of extra possessions. Isaiah Joe is as good as shooter we have in the league. (Jimmy) Whitt is automatic in the mid-range. (Mason) Jones is a tremendous player for them. They have a very, very good collection of guards. They’re the hardest playing team I’ve seen on tape all year. They’re just fearless and they play extremely, extremely hard. That will be a challenge for us as well. It should be a great game Wednesday night and we need to have a couple good days of preparation here.”

On what he knows of Arkansas coach Eric Musselman
“I’ve only met him a couple of times, but I think he’s done a remarkable job. The team plays extremely, extremely hard. They put you in some tough predicaments just with their spacing on offense and their shooting. I think they’re a team that will be in the hunt all year in the SEC, just because of how hard they play. (Adrio) Bailey does a good job down low. (Reggie) Chaney does a good job down low for them. They come, block a bunch of shots and contest a lot of shots at the rim. They’ve definitely got great spacing and they believe in what he’s doing and they play with very, very good freedom. They play a short rotation. All those guys know and understand they’re going to get a bunch of minutes and I think they play with freedom and play relaxed because of that.”

On what gives Arkansas a good chance in every game they play…
“Because of their guard play. Overall how hard they play. I think they’ve done a great job.”

On what can be attributed to the lack of turnovers recently…
“We’re just getting a little more used to playing with each other. We haven’t really had the ball heated up a whole lot the past couple games. Everybody kind of drops back into their pack hunt … Tennessee, they get their turnovers driving into the gaps. We didn’t have a lot of turnovers driving into the gaps. It’s not like they’re heating the ball up out front which was our issue against Utah State and Nicholls and some of those games. Arkansas, No. 3 (Desi Sills) he’s as good of an on ball defender that we’ve seen in the league. He’s going to pick us up three quarter court at least and work us up and down the court. We need to be better. I don’t expect we’ll turn it over as little as we have the last couple games, but we don’t need to be a whole lot more than that if we want to give ourselves a chance to win.”

On what Arkansas does to create 18 turnovers per game…
“The put tremendous pressure on the ball. They’ve got as good of hand activity as any team I’ve seen in the league. They play extremely, extremely hard and they’re very, very handsy. They get their hands on a lot of balls. They’re in the gaps. Sometimes it looks like they’ve got six guys out there because they play so hard. They’re just flying around. They fly to the ball. They front the post really well. Teams try to lob the ball over top to take advantage of them and they just swarm to the ball. They just swarm to the ball. We’ve got to be smart with our passes … You’ve got to shorten your passes. If you throw a cross-court pass against them, that’s getting picked off. You can’t throw cross-court passes. They do a very, very good job of pressuring and forcing you to be uncomfortable. I would say it’s different in how they do it, but it’s similar to the pressure that South Carolina with Coach (Frank) Martin – I would say it’s a little bit different with how they get to that point, but it’s a similar type of stress that it will put on your team.”

On if he’s getting concerned with Emmitt Williams’ fouls…
“Yeah. We’re certainly going to address that and talk about it. I think he’ll be fine. He’s just got to focus in and control and worry about the things we can control and worry about and not – we don’t want him to play timid because when he plays timid, that’s not who Emmitt is. There’s not a timid bone in his body. But we’ve got to cut out some of the unnecessary fouls. I think we can cut out some of them. Some of them aren’t Emmitt’s fault. Some of them, our guards get out there and gamble, we’ve got people out of position and they put us in rotation. Emmitt has to come over and try to save the day and he gets the fouls, but it started three plays before with one of our guards. We have to be more cognizant of that and a little more solid and consistent.”

On the improved play of Javonte Smart
“‘J’s’ been good. He’s been real good. He’s playing to his capabilities. He made shots at a high level in the Tennessee game which obviously helped us. But the main thing is his turnovers are down, his assists are up. I think he has a better understanding of what we’re asking him to do, who we’re asking him to be. He’s starting to get a – it’s a fine line when you’re a scoring point guard, which is what he is. As long as we’re here, we’ll always have scoring point guards. That’s what I like. That’s what we like. That’s who we like to play with. That’s what Tremont (Waters) was. But there’s a fine line for those guys on alright, ‘this is where I need to turn it on to score and this is when I need to turn it on to get some other guys involved.’ Sometimes that’s a delicate balance for those who aren’t as used to it. I think he’s just getting a little more comfortable with that and feeling better just being a play maker. That’s his role. He needs to be a playmaker for us on offense and defense. I think him just becoming a better playmaker on both those fronts has been helpful.”

On the team playing with a ‘back against the wall’ mentality…
“Our backs are still against the wall. (Tennessee) was one win. We’ve won two games. We lost two in a row before that, now we’ve won two in a row, so alright. Our backs are against the wall from now until March. We better come out scratching, clawing. We’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of areas to improve and get better. We’ll keep that mentality. We’ve got to be urgent. We’ve got to be desperate. We’ve got to play with relentlessness. That’s how we’re going to be because that’s how I am from now until March.”

On what Darius Days has been doing to lead the team in rebounding…
“I mean Days, one thing that gets really underrated, the last two games he’s had the biggest play of the game, both games. When we’ve had a double-digit lead and they cut it to single-digits, he’s been able to get an offensive rebound and a put back. He got an and-one against Liberty. It was just a put back … When you go to the glass, when you pursue the ball, you get the ball. You may pursue it 80-percent of the time and only get it 40-percent of the time. If you pursue it 80-90-perent of the time, you’re going track down a lot of those. He’s the fifth leading rebounder in the league. He’s a ball-getter. Trendon (Watford) has done a good job the last couple of games. He’s averaging nine rebounds for us the last three or four games. He’s rebounding better. If we keep Emmitt on the floor, he’s going to get his fair share of rebounds. We’re kind of doing it by committee. It’s not pretty, but Days certainly leads us there.”

On Skylar Mays’s and Marshall Graves’s leadership
“Skylar (Mays) is very stable, consistent, reliable, dependable, and any adjective you would like to use.  He has a presence on our team, when he’s engaged he’s locked in and talkative.  He’s helping the guys out and really engaging with them which helps all of our players.  He has way about him and so does Marshall Graves.  Marshall (Graves) is a huge component to what we do.  He is as smart as they come, and he has seen a lot too.  Marshall has been through a lot and he knows what good looks like and what good doesn’t look like.  He has a really good way about him.  Last week I had Marshall and Skylar (Mays) watch some film and I told them to talk through with the team and they did a phenomenal job.  Those guys have really helped us steady the boat after a couple of rough games.  They are going to continue to do that the rest of the year.”

On playing back to back home games …
“I think that’s just the way our schedule is set up, I don’t think we have a lot of back to back home games.  Certainly it helps not having to travel a lot because travel wears on you more than anything.  Hopefully it will be beneficial for us, but we got to get the first one and focus on Arkansas.  We have a little bit more time because you aren’t traveling so you can get an extra walkthrough in.  The biggest advantage is that they don’t have class this week so we have already done some workouts this morning and will come back and practice.  We can spend as much time as we need to get it right, there may be some things throughout the semester that you have to let go because you have guys that have to be here and some that have to be there.  Now if we lose a drill, we can reset and do it all day, I have nowhere to be.  We will do it until it’s done to our liking so that’s the bigger advantage. Not having classes and having two home games is certainly beneficial.”

On making second half adjustments in the Tennessee game on Saturday
“Tennessee hit some shots that they haven’t been hitting all year but obviously that new kid came in and hit some big shots, so we made a little bit of an adjustment.  It was more just them coming back to the mean than it was us doing anything crazy or fancy.”

On the team’s current spot in the SEC
“Obviously we would like to have a few more wins but our schedule sets up good and it’s been what we needed it to be.  We need some of these guys that have beaten us to win games.  I think we just have to win but we certainly are at where we need to be numerically.  I thought we could have been a little bit better than this if we had handled Southern California or East Tennessee or Utah State.  We are within striking distance which is all you can ask for to be a contender.  We are a contender at this point and we just have to play it out and be consistent.”