Three-Point Play: Second-half defense leads Arkansas to win

Hogs hold Oklahoma State to 25 points in second half of 66-65 victory

By Bart Pohlman

It wasn’t easy, but at the end of the day, a Daniel Gafford tip-in with 16 seconds left was enough for Arkansas to come away with a 66-65 win over Oklahoma State in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.

Senior guard Daryl Macon scored 22 points to lead the Razorbacks (15-6, 4-4 SEC), who trailed 40-32 at halftime. Macon was the only Arkansas player in double figures.

On to the observations…

1. The Hogs’ defensive effort in the second half was outstanding. Arkansas held OSU to 5-of-22 shooting, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range. Per @HogStats on Twitter, the 25 points allowed in the second half was the third-fewest given up to a major conference opponent in the Mike Anderson era. Arkansas brought it in the second half, mixing in a 1-3-1 matchup zone with some traditional man defense. Whatever Anderson said to his team at halftime, it worked.

Oklahoma State hit 50 percent of its shots in the first half, and was often getting easy buckets. But in the second half, the Cowboys only shot 22.7 percent, and hardly ever got an easy look. That was the defensive effort that’s been missing for Arkansas since the start of SEC play. If the Hogs can get back to playing that way consistently, they can win a lot of games down the stretch.

What was interesting was the lineup that was having success: Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon, Darious Hall, Dustin Thomas and Trey Thompson. It’ll be interesting to see if that group gets some more time together moving forward.

2. Slow starts continue to plague the Hogs. Oklahoma State jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead, and Arkansas didn’t score its first bucket until the 16:28 mark in the first half. The Cowboys kept rolling, and proceeded to get up by as many as 13. In some ways, it’s amazing the Hogs were even able to make this a game, let alone win it.

When you get down by double-digits, you’re fighting the rest of the way just to try to get back into the game, and you exert a ton of energy. Usually, that energy runs out toward the end of the game, and a team isn’t able to finish off the comeback. That’s where Arkansas’ conditioning program (and all those runs up Cleveland Hill) comes into play. The Razorbacks had just enough left in the tank to finish off the win.

This is a trend that’s carried over from last season—Arkansas gets off to a slow start, wakes up and comes roaring back. The Hogs weren’t able to finish off North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament last year, and the big comebacks aren’t exactly great for anyone’s sanity, but the Razorbacks have been making it work for them.

3. This team closes out games really well. Arkansas is now 10-1 in its last 11 one-possession games under Mike Anderson. When you have a guy like Daryl Macon, it helps. The guy is absolutely cold-blooded when it comes to making shots and free throws down the stretch. That’s as big a reason as any for the Hogs’ late-game success. As long as it’s a close game and Macon is on the court, you can’t count out these Razorbacks.

Other observations:

– Darious Hall shines. Hall was arguably the best defensive player on the floor for Arkansas on Saturday, constantly pestering OSU ball handlers. It’ll be interesting to see if Hall gets more minutes moving forward, as he’s improving and getting better with each game. The defense keeps getting better, and if the offense can catch up, Hall has potential to be a big-time contributor down the stretch.

– Pat Adams, man. There’s a saying that goes something like this: If fans know an official’s name, it’s not good. Well, Pat Adams isn’t good. The endless trips to the monitor and the blow calls on both ends of the court get old pretty quickly.

– Free throws still a looming issue. Arkansas hit only 10-of-18 free throws—or 55.6 percent—on Saturday. On the season, the Hogs are only shooting 66.6 percent from the charity stripe, which ranks 307th nationally. That’s bound to catch up with the Hogs at some point, and has led to some games this year being closer than necessary. A 5-of-12 free throw performance at Mississippi State likely cost the Hogs that game.

Up next: Arkansas travels to College Station to take on Texas A&M at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The game will be televised by ESPNU.