Hogs' low pressure means flat on road

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Monday, January 8, 2018
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson reacts to a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Auburn, Ala.
Photo by Associated Press
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson reacts to a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Auburn, Ala.

AUBURN, Ala. -- Daryl Macon grabbed a long rebound on a missed three-pointer by Auburn's Mustapha Heron and was ready to trigger a quick break for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Macon never made it to the front court. Auburn point guard Jared Harper swooped in, snagged the ball from Macon and dunked it one second later for a momentum-builder and a 16-8 lead for the Tigers during their 88-77 victory over the No. 22 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville on Saturday at Auburn Arena.

The pressure play in the backcourt helped Auburn rack up a 16-0 advantage in points off of turnovers in the first half and was indicative of the kind of plays the Razorbacks have made their stock in trade under Coach Mike Anderson.

The Razorbacks have known the importance of having their pressure defense travel to road games under Anderson, but it has not been the case early this season.

Arkansas fell to 0-3 in true road games. The Hogs' offense has not been a beneficiary of pressure defense in those losses at Houston, Mississippi State and Auburn.

The Razorbacks have forced 28 turnovers in the three road games, an average of just more than 9 per game. In Arkansas' other 12 games, opponents have averaged 16.4 turnovers per game, and the Razorbacks are 11-1 in those games.

Auburn outscored the Razorbacks 16-9 in points off of turnovers, while Mississippi State had a 19-9 advantage and Houston a 12-9 edge.

Anderson said Saturday that he wanted the Razorbacks to be unpredictable on defense.

"Everyone thinks that's all we do is press," Anderson said.

Anderson was reluctant to use full-court, trapping pressure in the Razorbacks' SEC road losses, and there are several factors that have played into it.

For starters, Arkansas has faced point guards who can dribble out of pressure and create advantages in manpower with their passing in the open court at full speed. Mississippi State's Lamar Peters, Nick Weatherspoon and Quinndary Weatherspoon discouraged trapping with their speed and the three managed only three of Mississippi State's seven turnovers against the Razorbacks.

Another issue is the potential for foul trouble on the back end with rim protector Daniel Gafford, who has done a lot of good things as a true freshman, though avoiding fouls is not one of them.

There's also the wear and tear on guards Anton Beard, Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford who are all averaging more than 30 minutes per game.

Macon played 38 minutes at Auburn and Barford played 33.

"Well, I've always been a pressing coach," Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said when asked if he was surprised by Arkansas' minimal full-court defense. "I like to get pressed. I thought we did OK handling it. I think we attacked the pressure and it does take its toll.

"First of all the rule changes [with hand checks] and Macon's going to play 38 minutes. Those three guards are so important to them. It's hard, I would think, for Mike to press all game long because it takes a toll."

The Razorbacks' half-court defense also has been allowing too much dribble penetration by players who recently have taken the ball to the goal for layups and for setting up teammates.

The Mississippi State trio broke down the Hogs' defense on the dribble in both halves, and Harper, Heron, Devion Mitchell and Desean Murray got into the paint with regularity Saturday for Auburn.

Arkansas played much better half-court offense in the second halves against both Mississippi State and Auburn. The Razorbacks made 20 of 31 shots in the second half of their 78-75 loss to the Bulldogs and 17 of 31 against the Tigers for a combined 37 of 62 (59.7 percent).

"They played really well in the second half," Pearl said of the Hogs. "They shot it well, they rebounded well and they did what they wanted to do offensively."

Barford, who scored 2 points in the first half but finished with 21 on 8 of 14 shooting, noted the drastic differences in his team's performances in the two halves.

"We've got to ... just play with more energy and heart and fight the whole game," Barford said. "We've got to put these two losses behind us and keep going.

"It's a long season and we've got a great conference on our hands. We've got to keep playing hard."

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