Everything Eric Musselman had to say after Arkansas lost to Baylor in NCAA Tournament
It’s disappointing to say this but the SEC’s basketball season has come to an end as Arkansas lost to Baylor 81-72 in the Elite 8.
Razorback fans may be disappointed at the moment but there is a ton to build off as Eric Musselman led the program to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1996 in just his second season with the program and Arkansas appears poised to make many more runs in the NCAA Tournament in the seasons to come.
Following the end of Arkansas’ run to the Elite 8, here is everything Musselman had to say in his postgame press conference.
Opening statement: Just want to give Baylor a ton of credit. I thought they played phenomenal tonight, especially offensively. I mean, our locker room gave us all they could, came up empty. We’ve had a great two months. Played at a very, very high level. But, again, tonight just have to give Baylor credit.
Question: You guys have come back all year and you cut it 18-4, but do you feel like Baylor is just too good a team? And they went on that 10-1 run late. What do you think made the difference there?
COACH MUSSELMAN: I just think they’re a really good team. They got All-Americans. We had three freshmen in our starting lineup. Obviously we were the youngest team left in the Sweet 16. Those guys earned their starts based on how they played. But it’s asking a lot for three freshmen in the Elite Eight game.
Those guys played great. JD offensively was phenomenal, but the foul trouble — yeah, Baylor’s a really, really good team. They’re the best team that we’ve played this year.
I mean, the effort when we got down, we could have hung our heads, but I mean we played really hard. I can tell you that, for the people that were live, watching it. I mean, we played extremely hard, but lacked some scoring at times. And defensively they hit some tough shots on us. And then the turnovers, we knew coming in they’re a team that — our 15 turnovers, not astronomical but 21 points off of them, just too much to overcome.
We outrebounded them. Usually we talk about rebounding being an effort stat. So we were worried about the glass and we played small ball and we just still outrebounded them. Their guards were just too much off the bounce.
Question: What are you going to appreciate the most about this team and this run?
COACH MUSSELMAN: I mean, it’s raw right now. As a competitor you want to win every game. So right now I’m thinking about the 40 minutes that just happened. And I think that all of us are really proud of the season that we’ve had. And I mean we got scorching hot at the right time to end the season. We played with confidence. We were a basketball team that got better every single day.
They came to practice and worked every day. Even today at our shoot-around we continued to work on some fundamentals that hopefully can help all of our guys individually, wherever they are.
But it was a great season. I mean, we don’t really know the impact because we’ve been in a bubble, in a controlled environment, in a hotel for a very long time. We don’t know what the outside world is. We’re playing in arenas that are not full like they usually are and going back to our hotel. So I think that the impact of what this team has accomplished this year, I think all of us will start feeling it once we get back to normalcy.
Question: Moses has been so good for you all year, but he was just 6-of-30 over these last two games. What do you think attributed to his shooting struggles?
COACH MUSSELMAN: Probably just the defense just really keying in on him, a major part of opponents’ scouting reports. That probably would be what I would contribute it to.
Question: Are you able to put into words what guys like Jalen Tate and Justin Smith and Vance Jackson, seniors who took a chance on Arkansas, have meant to the team this year?
COACH MUSSELMAN: Our transfers, first of all, especially if you’re a grad transfer, it’s a leap of faith. It’s your last college experience, both as a student and as an athlete or a basketball player. As a basketball player it’s your last piece to your resum� before you move on to hopefully play at some level professionally.
And so the faith and the trust that those three guys gave us — because we only had one year of body of work at Arkansas — and those three guys, I can’t say enough about — without those guys we’re not here. I can tell you that.
And they did a great job in the locker room. They did a great job with our freshmen. I thought our seniors did a phenomenal job trying to build the freshmen up every single day. And they allowed our freshmen to be stars, because they’re such unselfish people.
Question: Kind of piggybacking off an earlier one, how much do you intend to use this one as fuel heading into next season? And really how exciting does this game make you for next season?
COACH MUSSELMAN: I think that this run can certainly help us next season. Again, stinging from the loss, but all competitors hate to lose.
And so I’m sure when we get out of this building and we fly back home tomorrow, we’ll have time to reflect once we get back to Northwest Arkansas. But the locker room’s disappointed. We came into this game to try to win the game. But a phenomenal season and certainly a season in year two that we can all build upon.
Question: JD, he was phenomenal scoring. I think he had 14 points in 15 minutes. But how tough was it that he couldn’t play maybe a usual 30 minutes when he’s hot like that?
COACH MUSSELMAN: Yeah, we needed him to play tonight. And, quite frankly, his dribble penetration, we were just going to see how long he could play out there. And then he picked up a fifth way too early.
But I thought he played great offensively and certainly we needed him to play as many minutes as he could when he’s playing like he was tonight, because he had a good rhythm and flow to the game and kind of understood how their defense was playing him. Unfortunately, defensively, he just picked up way too many cheap fouls.
Question: Talk about the inability to finish at the rim tonight. What do you think was the problem there, the defense of Baylor or what do you think was the issue finishing at the cup?
COACH MUSSELMAN: Well, I think we outscored them in the paint 40-36. Obviously in the second half we did not shoot the ball or score the ball or convert the ball as well as we would like. But we did shoot 48 percent from the field against a really, really good defensive team. So if someone told me we were going to be able to shoot 48 percent from the field, you know, we probably would have taken that. It was our defense is where we thought the major issues were.
Question: You mentioned the turnovers earlier. 10 of those came in the first half. Only five in the second half. What was kind of the key to getting that cleaned up?
COACH MUSSELMAN: I think we just had better offensive spacing. I think we understood the force that their defense played with. Obviously we had a really short turnaround, just as Baylor did. And so I just thought that once our guys kind of got a flow for how their defense was playing, I thought we certainly took better care of the ball.
They do a great job, like, if you long outlet pass, and we had way too many what I would consider unforced turnovers off of outlet passes or trying to throw advanced passes up the floor.