Arkansas senior forward Dustin Thomas / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson didn’t say it in as many words in his press conference Thursday, but it was clear he felt his Razorbacks blew their road opener with Mississippi State by playing ill-conceived basketball, particularly late in the game.
The Razorbacks trailed at halftime by four points, but quickly took tenuous control of the game. Arkansas led most of the second half, but the Razorbacks came up short, losing 78-75 to Ben Howland’s Bulldogs.
Anderson’s answer to the loss was basically physician heal thyself, or that the Hogs (11-3, 1-1) can cure what ails them by simply playing smarter basketball when they go on the road to face Auburn (13-1, 1-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday in a game televised by ESPNU.
#22 Arkansas at Auburn
Date: Saturday, Jan. 6
Time: 5 p.m.
Location: Auburn Arena, Auburn
“What we need to do is learn from this, and we will,” Anderson said. “We played hard, but not necessarily smart. We need to learn those lessons as we get ready to play a very explosive team in Auburn on the road.”
Anderson said his Razorbacks played pretty good basketball to only lose by three in a game where the Bulldogs shot 40 free throws and the Hogs only shot 12. However, he warned that the Razorbacks must play better and smarter if they want to be a good road team in SEC play.
“We’ve got to fix the things that cost us in that game,” Anderson said. “Our effort to the glass wasn’t what it needs to be. There were times we’d have the ball on the rebound and lose it, have it taken away. We gave up too many easy shots inside. We didn’t make the stops when we needed to.”
There were offensive struggles too. Some of the Hogs’ best players made key mistakes that proved costly down the stretch. Anton Beard missed a transition three-pointer when a better shot could have come through patience and offensive execution. The team suffered three critical turnovers in the final minutes including Daryl Macon’s travel when he was obviously setting up a long three-point with the Hogs trailing by 3 with 16 seconds to play.
“On offense, we got away from what was really good for us,” Anderson said. “We made some bad plays. We had three turnovers in the last five minutes.That was critical. When you have the lead and when the score is tied up, it comes down to executing and finishing.”
The motion offense the Razorback run isn’t designed to set up three-point shots. That happens, but the design is to create layups that draw fouls. That’s the execution Anderson wanted from his Hogs. The Razorbacks relied on what’s easy, gunning down three-pointers, and it bit them in the behind against the Bulldogs.
Macon and Beard are good three-point shooters, and there may be a time in an end-game situation where a three-pointer by them or Jaylen Barford or another Hog is the shot to take. But, it’s clear Anderson, who gives his Hogs freedom, felt working the ball for a better shot was the more fruitful and prudent plan.
Anderson didn’t even want to discuss whether Macon’s late game move that drew the travel call was a good or bad.
“The game did not come down to that,” Anderson said. ”The play went against what we wanted. With 16 seconds on the clock, we want an attack on the basket.”
A drive to the basket can yield more than shooting hero shots from the outside. A drive to the basket that ends with a foul not only can put points on the board but it stops the clock.
It was clear from the time Macon received the ball after throwing it in, he intended to shoot a desperation three to tie the game.
It’s great that Macon has that kind of confidence in himself and he might have hit that trey, if he had gotten the shot off and not walked. But, what he and his other confident and talented teammates have to remember is that basketball is a team game. It’s not all on them to make it happen.
This Razorback team is too talented and capable for one-on-one heroics to be a first option, unless it is truly a desperation situation.
These same players pulled several games out late last year by making drives to the basket and drawing fouls within the offense. It was beautiful to watch, and it was smart basketball. Anderson wants to see a return to that in late-game situations, and no doubt his team is hearing that message as they prep for Auburn.
As for the Tigers, Auburn boasts an impressive 13-1 record under coach Bruce Pearl this year, and an even more impressive road victory over Tennessee, 94-84, from Tuesday night
It took the Razorbacks overtime to dispatch the Vols, 78-75, at Walton Arena.
“They play with a lot of emotion and a lot of confidence,” Anderson said. “We have to go over there and really get after it. We look forward to the opportunity to play a team that is going to get up and down the floor with us, and hopefully we can get our bench in and get them really, really involved.”
Anderson admitted he needs to trust his bench more and get them into games. By doing that his mainline players might be fresher at the end and make better decisions with the basketball. He added that the Razorbacks’ depth is their greatest strength, and that he needs to make that strength work for them.
Against Auburn, Anderson said it’s essential for the Razorbacks to get the ball in the paint.
“We’ve got to attack the basket, and maybe take advantage of some of our size,” Anderson said. “I thought last year we did a good job of spacing the floor and really getting good ball movement and posting up against them and getting some good cuts to the basket. We have to make them play defense. We got to learn to play to win.”
The Tigers are among the best rebounding teams in the league. They had 22 offensive rebounds in their win over the Vols. Auburn rebounds by committee with incredible effort more than by overwhelming opponents with size.
“They play with freedom,” Anderson said. “They get a lot of long rebounds. They have guys that pursue the basketball. They are going to shoot it and then go get it. We certainly are going to have to put a body on a body and chase down the long rebound. They are an extra-effort team. They play with a lot of energy and play with a lot of effort, and we have to match that. As shots got up, we’ve got to put a body on a guy and then we have to pursue the ball. There is no secret to it.”
Anderson said playing better defense by stoping penetration and keeping in front of the ball is important. Playing better position defense will help eliminate some of the fouls that allowed Mississippi State to shoot 40 free throws against the Razorbacks last Tuesday.
“In order to be successful on the road, you can’t allow that many free throws to take place,” Anderson said. “It’s surprising we were that close. That’s how I know we are playing some good basketball. To have have that many free throws shot and made and us to lose by 3, we are playing pretty good basketball.
“Now we have to eliminate some of the things are negative from a rebounding standpoint and with loose balls. We’ve got to play harder and get our bench involved so guys can finish out games the right way.”
Anderson said Auburn’s players are aggressive and fly to the backboard to rebound. The Hogs must counteract that by blocking out and possibly drawing fouls when the Tigers go over their backs for rebounds.
“It’s going to be physical, but that’s the nature of it,” Anderson said. “SEC basketball. The intensity goes up. The physicality goes up. You have to see what they [the officials] are calling and how they are calling it, and adjust”