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March 12, 2020

Eric Musselman

Mason Jones

Isaiah Joe

St. Louis, Missouri

Arkansas 86, Vanderbilt 73

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Arkansas.

We will begin with an opening comment from coach.

ERIC MUSSELMAN: I thought we did a really good job defensively, in the first half especially, defending Vanderbilt, taking away the three ball. Our three-ball defense for the entire game has been kind of what it's been all year, which is really good. We did a good job on the backboards tonight. It's been kind of a problem for us, rebounding the ball.

Again, the ball movement tonight was as good as we've seen in a really, really long time, sharing the basketball, having 17 assists.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for the student-athletes.

Q. You got off to such a good start. I think you were up 25-9. I don't think Vanderbilt ever made it closer than 10. How big was that to get off to that kind of start?
MASON JONES: It was good to get on a good run. We was eager to play today. We wanted to set the tone early for people that want to watch us play. We came out ready to go. We was really ready to play. We had one practice earlier, everybody was eager to play. I knew that was going to carry over to the game and you saw it. We was on a big lead and we were just able to maintain the lead the whole game.

ISAIAH JOE: That early lead was good for us. We knew we had to come out with the energy that we did. We knew we had to get off to a good start so we wouldn't have to play behind the whole game. So once we got that lead, we just knew we had to execute our offense and get defensive stops to hold it.

Q. The SEC announced they're not going to have fans at any more games, maybe family members. How odd do you think that's going to be playing South Carolina tomorrow with an empty arena?
MASON JONES: It don't mean nothing. We just going to get out there and go play just like we in the park or something, we just going to play hard. It's still going to show a W or L at the end of the day. We want to come out with a W, so we going to bring the same energy we brought today and we just going to get prepared for tomorrow's game just like it's another game.

ISAIAH JOE: We can't worry about the fans. It's unfortunate they can't be there. We just have to go out there and play our game. Everything is happening on the court so we can't worry about anything on the outside. We just have to play our game.

Q. Desi, contributions from him.
ISAIAH JOE: We know his game. We know what he's capable of doing. He's a great player. He's had a lot of big games late in the year. So we knew coming into this game, I mean, if he's open, he's going to knock down the shot. He knows the correct plays to make and he's a dog on defense. Desi is overall a great player and we know what he's capable of.

MASON JONES: Desi is just doing Desi things. We know what to expect from Desi, but a lot of people from the fans still don't know what to expect from Desi game in and game out.

But today's game was incredible. You saw when he came out already aggressive and he was ready to play. You saw it in his face that he was ready to play. You saw it on the court, it all showed through the stats and just how well he played today. 5-5 from the three-point line. Just shooting incredible right now.

Q. Isaiah, that was the first time you've ever fouled out. Thoughts on that.
ISAIAH JOE: No, just got to play better defense next time. The refs, you can't complain about the calls they make, they can't take them back. Just have to watch the film, see what I did wrong, correct it for next game.

Q. What are your feelings about playing South Carolina? Do you feel like you have a little bit of an advantage because you played and won or they have an advantage because they're rested?
MASON JONES: There's no advantage to be honest. Everybody just has to come ready to play. I feel like we're going to go back to the hotel, get some rest, get up in the morning and prepare like South Carolina. I know we're going to come ready to play tomorrow.

It's a bounceback game. We know we want to beat them this time. They beat us at the crib. We going to have that on our mind the whole night.

ISAIAH JOE: We just got to come out and play our game, play hard, harder than them. They're an aggressive team. We have to play harder than them and smarter than them, both ends of the floor. This game was a good win, but now we have to put it in the past and focus on South Carolina.

Q. Mason, defensively from Ethan Henderson or Reggie Chaney, what did you see from them tonight that gave you a spark?
MASON JONES: They blocked everything. Saben Lee and the other guards was trying to go to the paint. You saw Ethan and Reggie come out with blocks out of nowhere. They made a lot of blocks tonight and it really helped us get fast-break points and transition points. Their play today was incredible. We're going to need that tomorrow. We need them to get rest, we need the whole team to get rest.

THE MODERATOR: We'll excuse the student-athletes. We'll continue with questions for Coach.

Q. Isaiah looked like he drew a charge, Mason was blocking out. Is that what the technical was about?
ERIC MUSSELMAN: No thoughts. There was a lot of good shopping here in Nashville. I'm going to let my wife spend the money, not give it to anybody else. I refrain from saying anything.

Q. What are your thoughts about playing without the fans here?
ERIC MUSSELMAN: Yeah, I mean, I think we go play basketball the way that they tell us to. I'm not an expert on anything really going on other than what I read on social media and stuff.

It kind of is what it is. Again, I'm not educated in the medical field. I mean, both teams are going to play in that environment tomorrow and for the rest of the tournament.

One thing, I am glad, I'm really glad that our guys got to play tonight in front of fans. I think it's probably one of the last times this year where there will be fans. They got an opportunity to experience that in a great environment.

For a first game on the first night of a tournament, it was a great turnout. Obviously the severity and the seriousness of this is well beyond anything that a coach or a player or whatever.

On the flip side of it or whatever, for me, I just told the guys in the locker room, if you spend a lot of years in the Minor Leagues, you play in front of a lot of empty arenas. It comes down to being a competitor. There's not going to be momentum swings based on a crowd or the noise in the building. There's going to be momentum swings like there are in the park when you play on a Saturday or Sunday.

I mean, I told them, some of them before the game even, because we knew something could possibly happen as we were reading stuff on social media, and then I brought it up just now. What would Kobe Bryant do? How hard would he play tomorrow? Would he worry about crowd or no crowd or would he go compete because there's a scoreboard up?

Q. You've had some slow starts this season. Feeding off that point, to miss your first four shots tonight, then to have Mason create, get to the free-throw line and kind of kick-start, then three different runs of 7-0.
ERIC MUSSELMAN: Like what we talked about coming into the game, we prepared hard. We went twice yesterday on two different basketball courts. We didn't do a hotel ballroom stuff. We went yesterday.

We felt like the way to win this game was going to have to be based on our defense more so than our offense. Although we did get off to a little bit of 0-for-4, took two or three shots that didn't fall, defensively I thought we were really, really good to start the game. I really did.

It's hard in a college basketball game to hold a lead for 37 minutes. We were able to do that this evening.

Q. You mentioned the sacrifice Desi made earlier in the season coming off the bench. How important is it for him to keep giving you that spark?
ERIC MUSSELMAN: Obviously we changed our starting lineup tonight based on matchups and so forth. We went with a pretty significant different rotation than we have for most of the year.

I talked to Desi yesterday individually, away from the other guys, about coming off the bench or starting. He really wanted to come off the bench again and give us some pop.

I kind of left it in his decision because we felt like -- I felt like we could use him as a starter today. He felt comfortable coming off the bench. I think it's always important to communicate with your players and get a feel for where they are mentally. If that makes him feel more comfortable to watch the flow of the game, come off and give us a scoring spurt, that's awesome.

Q. You talk about Desi, but twice Vandy pulled within 11 or 12. Desi hit a three. How big were those? After that what are your thoughts on a Carolina rematch?
ERIC MUSSELMAN: I don't think there's any doubt that Desi's shots, they were momentum swings because Vandy would kind of be knocking on the door, we might have an empty possession, and his shots were really crucial.

The thing is, he didn't force anything either. I mean, out of his threes that he hit tonight, his feet were set, his shoulders were squared, he caught the ball with time and space, mixed in some dribble drives with his three ball. Certainly his shots were big-time momentum shots for us.

I told everybody in Fayetteville, the only thing I've been worried about is how to win this game. We'll go back now tonight and as a staff watch a bunch of film, won't get much sleep tonight, we know that in preparation for tomorrow because it's already late. We'll do a bunch of different things throughout the course of the day with our guys to try to prepare them the best we can because probably right now South Carolina has probably already started on one part of their prep while we've been all doing this.

Q. With all your NBA experience, hearing the NBA has canceled its season, how serious does that bring this situation to your mind?
ERIC MUSSELMAN: A lot. Obviously when Golden State made the decision yesterday, it kind of started it. I mean, I'm aware of at least whatever was going on in the Utah game, you know, pregame. Texted with a couple of my buddies that are with some teams.

There's just kind of shock throughout not just the basketball world but kind of shock with everybody. Again, I think these decisions are made by people that are way smarter than a basketball coach. I don't really have much more to say.


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