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Everything Eric Musselman said after Arkansas beat Texas A&M

The Arkansas basketball team’s turn toward decency appears to have come too late in the season to save Eric Musselman’s NCAA Tournament streak.

But at least it has come.

The Razorbacks beat Texas A&M, 78-71, on Tuesday to take both games in the season series against the Aggies. Arkansas’ win was only its fourth in SEC play this season, though three have have come in the last handful of games.

Musselman is as happy with his team right now as he has been all season. After Tuesday’s win, he said the last 100 minutes or so of basketball – not counting the second half against Tennessee – have been the sharpest his team has looked since Christmas.

Arkansas’ win put the Hogs back at .500 on the season, which is hardly where the team expected to be when the year began. But Musselman said he feels that with the way his players have been treating practices lately combined with largely improved results in games, the Razorbacks can bring legitimacy back to the program in the final few weeks.

Here’s what Musselman had to say Tuesday.

Resilience

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

I thought our competitive spirit, our toughness, will to win, I thought it was at a high level against Missisisppi State and I thought we carried that over to another 40 minutes tonight. To think we have three players out, short turnaround, back-to-back road games against a team we have beaten previously, it’s always hard to win two games against the same opponent. … Everybody has worked extremely hard. We had a not a good shootaround, but a phenomenal shootaround today. Sometimes when you’re struggling, it’s hard to have the energy and enthusiasm, but I think the staff and the players have done a great job of continuing to try to get better.

How to limit Taylor and Radford

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

From a preparation standpoint, we watched a lot of film yesterday in short segments. The game plan was to try to limit both of their touches. … Coming into the game, the game plan was to try to make Taylor a passer. He did a good job with his nine assists, but we did not want him aggressively hurting us from 3. For 37 minutes, holding him to not make a 3-point shot is impressive. Defensively, in the second half, we were really, really good. In the first we were good, although they shot 45% in the first half. We still felt at halftime like that game was moving in the direction that we wanted. … A team that was undersized and undermanned on a short turnaround on a back-to-back trip after losing a difficult game, this team played their hearts out.

Layden Blocker

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

I thought he played really good tonight. His two steals in the 23 minutes that he was in, he was able to guard Taylor and did a really good job other than the fouls, but we want him to be aggressive defensively. Ki Mitchell, right now is playing as good as any center in the league. Certainly Layden tonight gave us a huge lift off the bench as our bench play was really good. Quite frankly the difference in the game was probably our bench play.

Limiting second-chance points

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

By going vertical. By understanding that they were going to offensive rebounding, especially when we knew that Graham was going to be unavailable. … For the most part we did a phenomenal job of defending second-shot opportunities. It’s really hard to keep them off the glass. … You normally don’t want to talk to your team about another team grabbing offensive rebounds, but maybe second jumps and verticality could help us. I thought the eight blocks were extremely important and there was probably another five that altered around the win.

A&M had been whipping people at home

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

I know that people get tired when a coach talks about good practices. But we have had good practices. I think that some of the things that we do and have done in the past are now starting to sink in with some guys. I hope that these last two games and the first half against Tennessee, I hope that that really, those 100 minutes or whatever was really good basketball. … Look, this has not been easy. When you look at the injuries we have had. Graham was out the entire Bahamas. Been out of late. Brazile has been out of late. Menifield was a factor in the last game against Texas A&M. That group that was out there tonight played with great toughness, great enthuisasm. I think you could see the joy. Davenport was playing with great fun and great competitive spirit. Really proud of our team tonight.

Tramon Mark

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

We went to a lot of isolations with him at the top of the key. I palyed him at the point guard position entirely in the second half. … I thought he was phenomenal with the shot selection. Obviously that big 3 he took was extremely important. The free-throws attempted. Those free throws were game-altering gimmes that you want guys to make from the foul line. A lot of really positive things to build off.

Quite honestly, we didn’t know if he would practice last couple days or play. He’s been getting with our trainer. I’m usually one of the first ones in the building now since I work out in there and he’s been in there a lot of late. He’s playing through pain. He’s doing it for the betterment of the team. But it’s been bothering him for quite some time.

Won second-chance points

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

We talked, we drilled, zone 1 scoring is vital for us with the make-up of our team. I thought that although we only had 11 offensive rebounds, we did an excellent job of converting around the rim on offensive rebounds. … Some of the stuff we’ve struggled with, we haven’t been a high-steal team and now all of the sudden we’re getting steals. There’s not a lot of teams that when you struggle, keep getting better. We’ll see how we do in this two-game homestand, but staff, players feel like there’s been great progress as of late.

Makhi Mitchell

Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

We certainly hope we can sustain it. We need him to sustain it. He’s been extremely focused. There’s been no distractions with his minutes out there. We’re really relying on him. Basically, both halves sat three minutes then went the duration of 17 minutes both halves. … Huddles were awesome. Guys talking about how to win. Hafltime the guys were super, super engaged on some player evaluations that we needed to improve on. So really proud of how Ki and that whole group was out there tonight.

Big fouling game

Petre Thomagainst-USA TODAY Sports
Petre Thomagainst-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe that probably factored in why we lost the other night. We had so many guys out down the stretch when we needed a basket. We recognize that we haven’t been a team that’s created enough offense through our defense. … When you do that, it can lead to some foul trouble. That’s one of the things we want to continue to get better at. Tonight, causing 12 turnovers and us with the number of steals we had at seven, we’ve done a good job of late of doing that and we need to continue that.

Keeping confidence high

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

You get back in the gym and you show the guys that you believe in them by how you prepare. The staff’s done a great job of having incredible neergy. The assistant coaches and the support staff and the graduate assistants, those guys have done an incredible job. … It’s been a struggle for sure, the team is battling. The team is competing, but I feel like we’re getting better as a team.

Khalif Battle played a lot and hard

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

I think we’re as a group we’re playing with toughness. I’ve made a decision to go with a certain group of guys. One thing is the steals. Tonight he had two steals. That defensive activity. His ability to draw free-throws attempted. Tonight he went to the line 10 times. With players being out, that opens up opportunities, too. We’ve got three guys that play pretty significant minutes so that means somebody else is going to get those minutes. Certainly KB’s done a good job. He struggled tonight offensively from the field, he did a great job from the foul line.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire