Inside Arkansas' sluggish second-half start vs. WKU

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, December 10, 2018
Reggie Chaney (35) of Arkansas attempts a shot as Josh Anderson of Western Kentucky guards Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Reggie Chaney (35) of Arkansas attempts a shot as Josh Anderson of Western Kentucky guards Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Outside of Arkansas' inability to manufacture a quality look on its final possession on Saturday, its sluggish start to the second half can be looked at as a key reason its six-game winning streak came to an end.

Arkansas also saw its string of 14 consecutive Saturday home wins snapped. Previously, its last such loss came March 5, 2016 against South Carolina.

But carrying a 41-33 lead out of halftime, the Razorbacks appeared in control. Arkansas got 16 first-half points from Isaiah Joe and eight points and six rebounds from Daniel Gafford while holding Western Kentucky to 13/29 from the floor and 3/12 from 3-point range. Other than Charles Bassey going for 11 points and six boards in the opening 20 minutes, Mike Anderson had to be pretty pleased.

Hilltoppers coach Rick Stansbury, though, had his guys ready to go to open the second half. It took Western Kentucky just 14 possessions to erase an 8-point deficit and turn it into an 8-point lead. Arkansas' starting lineup was outscored 14-5 in the opening 3:18 of the half, forcing Anderson to call for time to halt momentum.

The Hilltoppers' run was keyed by guards Jared Savage and Taveion Hollingsworth, who combined for 10 of the early 14 points. Savage was terrific for Stansbury as a perimeter complement to Bassey, scoring 20 points on 5/7 from 3-point range in the win. Hollingsworth added 17 points and buried three more 3s.

"That first four minutes was key," Stansbury said. "Down eight, first timeout up (one). Jared got us going. Jared jumped up and made some huge shots for us and played big."

Arkansas began the second half with a pair of turnovers, one a shot clock violation and one from Gafford as he was stripped attempting to make a move toward the middle of the lane. Prior to Anderson's timeout, the Razorbacks were 2/4 from the floor (both Gafford scores) with the aforementioned two miscues. One of the misses was Adrio Bailey's missed dunk. He finished the game 0/4 from the floor and did not score.

On Western Kentucky's next possession, Bassey finished with a dunk following a pair of offensive rebounds to tie the score. Gafford then raced down the floor for a dunk in transition, but Savage fired back with a 3 from the top of the key to give the Hilltoppers their first lead of the day at 47-46 to cap the 14-5 spurt.

Out of Anderson's timeout, he inserted three reserves – Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, Gabe Osabuohien, Reggie Chaney – in place of Mason Jones, Bailey and Gafford with 16:34 left. The group was then outscored 10-3 over the next 3:51 and the Hilltoppers grabbed a 57-49 lead.

In that span, Arkansas was 1/6 from the floor with a turnover, and Joe's fifth and final 3-pointer was the only score. After that, Chaney, Osabuohien, Embery-Simpson and Jalen Harris each misfired on the Razorbacks' next five offensive trips. Osabuohien took an ill-advised 3-pointer and later had a floater rejected by Marek Nelson. Harris, who took a game-high 15 shots, missed a left-elbow jumper in that timeframe, too.

During its 24-8 run, Western Kentucky shot 10/14 from the floor and 3/5 from deep. Savage scored nine of his 14 second-half points in that span. On the other side, Arkansas went 3/10 overall and 1/4 from deep with three turnovers and forced itself to play catch-up the rest of the way.

Following the game, Anderson was asked about Western Kentucky's run to take control. It wasn't on the reserves, he said. Desi Sills, who gave Arkansas a huge lift offensively in the second half with nine points, was the lone bench player who was a net positive in the game. Osabuohien and Embery-Simpson were both minus-10 in seven and eight minutes played, respectively. Chaney was a minus-7 over 14 minutes.

"I thought it was the guys that started off," Anderson added. "They were real sluggish. We were sloppy with the basketball. We didn’t score. We missed a lot of little shots inside. And then I thought they were actually getting some easy opportunities. They spread us and our help side was not there.

"Again, it’s the opposite of how we’ve been playing. I thought defensively that was probably one of our worst performances."

And it was in terms of field goal percentage against (50 percent) and points per possession allowed (1.07). Western Kentucky scored on 19 of 35 second-half possessions, according to StatBroadcast, and averaged 1.286 points per trip.

"We weren't connected like how we were initially," Bailey said. "When they had their run we weren't connected defensively. It was kind of bringing us down. They just had that little run and we couldn't recover from it."

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