Three-Point Play: Arkansas drilled at home by LSU

Nothing goes right for Hogs in uninspiring loss

By Bart Pohlman

A rough start turned into a nightmare Wednesday in Bud Walton Arena, as LSU bashed Arkansas 75-54.

The Razorbacks (11-5, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) shot just 18.2 percent from the field in the first half en route to trailing the Tigers (11-4, 2-1 SEC) by 20 at the break. Jaylen Barford was the lone bright spot for the Hogs, scoring 17 points.

So what happened?

1. Slow starts continue. That wasn’t just a slow start, though—it was almost as if Arkansas didn’t even show up to the arena. The Hogs opened the game with brick after brick, but didn’t do anything to help themselves, either. Time and time again, Arkansas settled for jump shots instead of working the ball inside to Daniel Gafford. Now, part of that was what LSU was doing from a defensive standpoint, but the Razorbacks simply have to figure those things out. LSU’s defenders would sag off the guard trying to make the entry pass into Gafford, and then Arkansas would give up on trying to work the ball into the post and clank an 18-footer (the Hogs finished the first half 6-of-33 shooting). There was a lot of standing around on offense, almost as if everybody was waiting for somebody else to make a play.

But it wasn’t just the offense having trouble—the defense contributed to the slow start, as well. Part of Arkansas’ game plan is to speed up the opponent and force them to make mistakes. That leads to easy baskets on the other end and gets the offense going. But when the defense is playing like Swiss cheese and not forcing turnovers, that doesn’t happen. Arkansas allowed the Tigers to hit 55.6 percent of their shots in the first half, and rarely forced a turnover. Going into the game, Arkansas was 69th nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings. After the game, the Hogs are 75th. Heading into SEC play, Arkansas was in the 40s. It has to start with defense for the Razorbacks, a mantra Mike Anderson has used throughout his tenure on The Hill.

2. CJ Jones has the yips, and the bench continues to falter. That’s the best way I can think of to describe what’s going on with Jones, who was great in nonconference play. It’s like a golfer who can’t make a three-foot putt. In one stretch of the first half, Jones shot an air ball, bricked a floater and then nearly missed everything on a 3-pointer once again. It was tough to watch, and you feel bad for Jones, who has the ability to be a great scorer off the bench.

Jones’ struggles continue to be representative of a bigger problem, however: Arkansas’ bench productivity has vanished. The Hogs’ backups have been outscored in every SEC game, and there isn’t a single player coming off the bench right now who can be relied on to get buckets. Trey Thompson had his best performance in a while Wednesday, scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds, but the rest of the Hogs’ bench shot a combined 3-of-15 from the field.

3. At the end of the day, that was as bad an all-around performance as I can remember a Mike Anderson-coached Arkansas team having. To only score 54 points at home, get drilled by 21, get outscored 44-26 in the paint and manage just six points off turnovers is a nightmare scenario.

The key now is how Arkansas responds. Despite what many will think, this is still a team that’s in good shape this season. The wins over Oklahoma, Minnesota and Tennessee are important. But there’s definitely anxiety among Arkansas fans, who have been teased time and time again through the years. If the Razorbacks don’t come out and play one of their better games Saturday at home against Missouri, then it might be time to start worrying. Every team has a game it wants to forget during a season. The Hogs need to make this one theirs.

Other observations:

– If you would have told me that LSU freshman Tremont Waters would only score eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, I would have told you I’d expect Arkansas to win the game. Even with the low scoring output, though, Waters showed what makes him a special player, dishing out eight assists and grabbing five rebounds. He found other ways to contribute and make his team better. He doesn’t get the same hype of other freshman in the country—likely because of his size—but he’s a great player who makes LSU a threat every night.

– SEC basketball officiating is horrendous. College basketball officiating across the board isn’t great, but then there’s the SEC. At one point in Wednesday night’s game, Pat Adams called a charge on Arkansas, but Ron Groover came in to overrule him. The officials went to the monitor, and it was determined the LSU player was inside the semicircle under the basket. The ruling was blocking on LSU. But the fact that an official on the other side of the court had to come over and overrule the guy under the basket was confusing, to say the least. Adams, in particular, catches a lot of grief, and rightfully so. He’s not good, and he doesn’t handle himself well. He attempted to have a fan thrown out of the game in the first half, and later hit Anderson with a technical foul. Not a great look for SEC officials.

– Free throw shooting continues to be an issue for the Hogs, who only hit 12-of-20 attempts Wednesday. Arkansas is now shooting 60.7 percent from the stripe in conference play.

Next up: Arkansas hosts Missouri (12-4, 2-1 SEC) at 5 p.m. Saturday inside Bud Walton Arena.