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Hoops Locker Room:There was a lot of praise for Matt Jones in the locker room after Arkansas whipped Auburn, 74-52, Wednesday night at Bud Walton Arena. Some of it was deserved. Some of it was not.
"Matt gave us energy, steals, hit some open jumpers, had some assists and helped us a lot on the boards," said Billy Pharis, Matt's old running buddy from their Van Buren days.
Pookie Modica said, "Matt was an emotional leader out there tonight. He gave us enthusiasm, got some steals and really, really helped us on the boards."
Well, most of that was true. Jones hit 4 of 5 field goals, both of his free throws and his only 3-point shot to score 11 points with two assists and three steals.
"But I didn't get a single rebound, so I thank those guys for staying that, but I don't know where they got that I was good on the boards," said a laughing Jones after finishing a lengthy stint on the post-game radio show. "I did use my body to keep their big guys off the boards and our guards came in and cleaned up."
Jones laughed about one of his made free throws, a hard line drive that banked good.
"That was about like the pass I threw to Richard Smith in the South Carolina football game," Jones said. "Should have been an interception, but it went through the DBs hands and to Richard for a TD. That first free throw didn't look too good, but it counted."
Pharis was waiting at the scorer's table to enter the game when Jones banked home the charity shot. He made a bee line straight for Matt for some advice.
"I just told him now that he had the first one out of the way to swish the next one," Pharis said. "We were laughing."
Jones said, "Billy did say something about it being not so pure. I tried to do a little better on the next one."
The leadership was obvious, maybe a bit surprising from a fellow criticized for what some perceive to be a lack of that trait when he's on the football field.
"Anyone who says Matt doesn't lead is just wrong, wrong," Modica said. "He's an older guy and this is a young team. He was telling us not to let up, not to let them come back on us like they did earlier this year when we blew the big lead at Auburn. He told us that on the court and then he did it again in the locker room at halftime. He was the guy who spoke up."
Jones said he is probably more comfortable leading by example, but he decided the team needed someone to talk a little.
"This is a young group and probably needed something to be said," Jones said. "I'm a little older. I just thought what happened at Auburn was an embarrassment and it should never happen. It would be like losing a four TD lead in football. You don't want that to happen again. I went out once in the first half and I reminded each guy on the floor before I left that we let them get a dunk just before halftime and that sparked them. I didn't want them to let up."
The other Jones, junior Michael, led the Hogs with 17 points. He hit 6 of 7 from the field and 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. He seemed to expand his range as the game progressed.
"I was feeling really good after hitting the first two," Michael Jones said. "My range is pretty unlimited once I get it going. I was going to shoot it tonight if I was open after nailing the first two. My teammates were setting great screens. Everyone got a few screens on every possession. And they were getting me the ball."
The Hogs hit 10 of 20 on threes for 50 percent, as good as they've done all season.
"Part of that was the extra pass," Modica said. "We have worked on that in practice and you see that our assists went up tonight (to 20) and that's what happens when you are unselfish."