Whether he went off the dribble, came off a screen, drove to the basket or passed half court, he was met with white jerseys and suffocating defense.
The Arkansas Razorbacks entered the O’Connell Center on Tuesday with a 16-9 record and a less-than-ideal 4-8 standing in the SEC. They left with a loss thanks in large to the attention that their star player, Mason Jones, attracted from the UF defense.
Jones, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard, has proven to give opposing defenses nightmares. He entered the matchup averaging an SEC-best 20.8 points per game and leading the conference in free throws attempted and made (172 of 208).
Besides commenting that Jones lives at the free throw line, UF head coach Mike White knew he was an all-around offensive juggernaut and cited some things that stuck out on film.
“The way that he shoots it off the catch, the way that he can create his own shot,” White said earlier this week. “His strength, his length, his ability to separate, to get his own jump shot and also get to the rim.”
Jones’ dexterity is on par with his impressive offensive repertoire as well.
Arkansas was also without its second-leading scorer guard Isaiah Joe, who is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery on his right knee, and the Gators knew the Hogs would depend heavily on Jones.
UF’s defense forced anyone else to beat him by denying Jones any breathing room in the halfcourt. Every screen the guard called was met by two UF defenders in the sophomore’s grill.
“We weren’t really doubling him, we were just catching the ball screen pretty long,” UF guard Andrew Nembhard said. “It probably seemed like a double but it wasn’t really a double.”
Guard Scottie Lewis acted as the primary defender on Jones throughout the night and was almost never alone with this strategy.
Jones was constantly harassed by two defenders every time he attempted to come off a screen and the strategy was supremely effective in the first half. Jones went into the visiting locker room with just eight points on 2-for-6 shooting from the field.
His teammates struggled to find any offense outside of their other-worldly guard, shooting 7-for-22 in the first half.
After halftime, Jones didn’t attempt to come off screens nearly as much and as a result took advantage of the one-on-one opportunities. He scored 13 points on 50 percent shooting and the Hogs trimmed the once 19-point lead to just two.
It wasn’t enough in the end as the Gators blew the game open in the closing minutes thanks in large to Keyontae Johnson’s career-high 24 points. Jones would end the night with 21 and knew that he was asking a lot of his second-year star in the 73-59 loss.
“Mason’s carrying us,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “I haven’t been around too many college basketball players that have such a burden that he’s had over the last eight games. There was four Florida Gators concentrating on one guy.”
Follow Joseph on Twitter @JSalvadorSports and contact him at [email protected].