Inexperience evident late in loss to Hilltoppers

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Saturday, December 8, 2018
Isaiah Joe of Arkansas reacts after Western Kentucky defeated Arkansas 78-77 Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Isaiah Joe of Arkansas reacts after Western Kentucky defeated Arkansas 78-77 Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson's general rule is to let each loss hurt until midnight, then forget about it.

The Razorbacks' 78-77 home loss to Western Kentucky may linger a bit longer.

Behind an uncontested layup from guard Marek Nelson with 19 seconds to play, the Hilltoppers snapped Arkansas' six-game win streak in stunning fashion. The loss also ended the Razorbacks' run of 28 consecutive non-conference wins in Bud Walton Arena.

Prior to Saturday, Arkansas' last home non-conference loss was to Akron in 2015.

"This is another learning curve for our young basketball team," Anderson said. "How do you handle the success? You have to understand that we didn’t defend the way we’re capable of defending. ... It’s the opposite of how we’ve been playing. I thought defensively that was probably one of our worst performances."

Western Kentucky controlled the tempo of the game, Anderson said. The Hilltoppers shot 50 percent for the game and became the first team to reach that mark against the Razorbacks this season. Arkansas had held each of its previous four opponents to under 39 percent.

WKU coach Rick Stansbury couldn't have asked for an easier go-ahead bucket with less than 30 seconds to play after Daniel Gafford gave Arkansas a 77-76 lead with 45 seconds remaining. In an attempt to front star freshman Charles Bassey on the ensuing possession, Gafford fell to the floor and forced junior Adrio Bailey to help, leaving Nelson wide open for just his third score of the game.

"All you’ve got to do is defend," Anderson said of the play, "and I don’t know how, we had a guy fall, and left the big guy wide open....That’s a breakdown in your defense."

Despite the defensive miscues throughout a 45-point Western Kentucky second half, Arkansas still had a chance to win. The Razorbacks' youth, though, and poor execution down the stretch cost them.

Coming out of a timeout, the Razorbacks appeared unorganized offensively. After crossing halfcourt with about 15 seconds to play, Arkansas guard Jalen Harris dribbled the clock down to eight seconds before passing to Mason Jones in front of the Razorbacks' bench. Jones fired a pass back and Harris attacked the rim, where Bassey was waiting.

Bassey rejected Harris' floater for his fourth block. Bassey, who had 21 points and nine rebounds, said he knew Harris was going to attack the rim in the closing seconds.

“I mean, Coach told us they were going to come right at us," he said. "I knew the point guard wasn’t going to pass the ball and he was going to the rim, because he can’t shoot. So I was there for help and I got the block.”

Bailey, held scoreless for the first time this season after missing all four shots and both free throw attempts, said Arkansas' plan coming out of the timeout with 19 seconds left was to get a shot within the framework of the offense. Anderson said he wanted to spread the floor, get the ball inside to Gafford and attack the rim.

Gafford, who finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, spent the majority of the sequence standing next to Bassey at the right block and was never truly involved in the play.

"The clock was running down and they made a good play," Anderson added. "The big fella blocked the shot. But we were trying to get it to Dan and get to the line and try to find Isaiah (Joe) spotting up or Mason spotting up. We had the floor spread....That’s the learning curve. You’ve got to learn how to make plays and make the right play."

Following the block, Western Kentucky guard Taveion Hollingsworth grabbed the loose ball, but stepped on the baseline. With 1.8 seconds remaining, Gafford's potential game-winner off a lob entry from Harris was too strong.

The Hilltoppers celebrated on the floor.

"I just thought we were a little sluggish," Anderson said. "I don’t know if it was a Colorado State hangover coming from there where we shot the ball well and played well and then its a quick turnaround.

"At the end of the day, they made more plays than we did. They had one more play than we did.”


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