Four-Point Play: Arkansas' first half SEC struggles, home crowds, more

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Arkansas guard Daryl Macon pulls ups for a jump shot over Tennessee defender John Fulkerson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Arkansas guard Daryl Macon pulls ups for a jump shot over Tennessee defender John Fulkerson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

First half struggles

Arkansas has trailed at halftime five times this season and in each of its three SEC games.

Those first halves against Tennessee, Mississippi State and Auburn weren't pretty.

Thanks to career days from Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford, the Razorbacks were able to overcome a seven-point halftime deficit against Tennessee, earn what was at the time a huge win in front of a delirious home crowd and, in hindsight, avoid an 0-3 start to league play.

Barford and Daniel Gafford were hit hit foul trouble in the opening 20 against Tennessee, and Macon was really the only offensive option when they weren’t on the floor. I wrote about how different Arkansas operated on both ends with Gafford off the floor in this game, but also missing Barford took away another scoring threat and Arkansas’ best finisher at the rim in transition.

Macon scored 13 first-half points on 5 of 9 shooting, including 3 of 5 from deep to keep Arkansas in it. This came following a two-game stretch against Oral Roberts and California State University, Bakersfield in which he scored only five points on 1 of 5 from the floor before the break.

Then Arkansas hit the road and the early struggles were magnified when Macon and Barford didn’t get off to great starts. Mike Anderson did not have a double-figure scorer in the first half in either game. Anton Beard’s nine points against Auburn was the top scoring effort, but it took eight shots to get there.

Macon and Barford combined for 14 points on 5 of 19 shooting in first halves on the road swing. Not great. As the team’s primary ballhandlers, you’d expect more, obviously. But the offensive woes don’t fall all on them. It’s a group effort.

Arkansas averaged .816 points per possession in the first half against Tennessee, .848 at Mississippi State and a dreadful .789 at Auburn. It’s no wonder Arkansas trailed for a majority — or all — of these games. The offense has been a lot of standing and watching and going through the motions cutting and screening, and that has led to just 89 points in 109 offensive possessions (.816 PPP in first half).

Here’s an example of the stagnant offense from late in the first half at Auburn. Arkansas operates from Auburn’s huge half court logo for more than 10 seconds and the ball sticks in Beard and Macon’s hands until Macon finally uses a pick from Trey Thompson and misses on a long two:

The Razorbacks did enough in the second half to furiously rally against Tennessee behind their two leading scorers. Mississippi State was very winnable, too. If the Hogs grab even a couple of loose balls or defensive rebounds it’s their game. State’s go-ahead bucket from Abdul Ado in the final 30 seconds came after he corralled a loose ball under the rim on a rather fortunate bounce. (Arkansas may have been better off fouling Ado at the rim rather than a straight-up contest, but hindsight is 20-20).

Mississippi State hounded Arkansas on the offensive glass, too, rebounding 10 of its 17 misses from 3-point range and turned those extra efforts into 10 points.

The loss at Auburn was just too little, too late. Giving up 1.237 points per possession defensively is a suboptimal way to begin any game, especially on the road. Anderson, at his Monday press conference recapping Auburn and previewing LSU, said he was more concerned with his team’s defense than anything. Great rotations defensively and getting “third, fourth and fifth efforts” will be paramount in snapping the two-game skid.

The Tigers came out sizzling Saturday, knocking down nearly everything. The 3-point shot (Auburn made 5 of its first 8) coupled with 24 stops led to Arkansas’ largest halftime deficit all season.

Arkansas’ first half offense wasn’t great, but was best when operating early in possessions. That’s nothing new. Arkansas was 8 of 16 from the floor within the first seven seconds as opposed to 4 of 10 with under 15 on the shot clock. On shots with less than 10 seconds, Arkansas was actually pretty good — 3 of 5 (Anton Beard layup, Barford stepback off glass, Gafford and-1).

The gray area, as I like to call it, for the Hogs are shots that come with 10-14 seconds left on the shot clock. I find it to be a time when the ballhandler consciously knows the offense is past its preferred shot window and approaching a period when rushed/forced shots are common. Arkansas was 1 of 6 on those looks with the lone make being a nice, easy Gafford post-up on a Macon feed.

Adrio Bailey missed on a pair of short-corner jumpers and Macon missed Arkansas’ first shot of the night in this time frame. I could possibly be looking too much into it, but it kind of makes sense considering Arkansas’ average time of possession to this point is 15.1 seconds — first in the SEC, 18th nationally, per KenPom.

The second halves have been a complete 180 from what we’ve seen to open games, and it’s hard to figure out. After halftime, Arkansas has looked more like itself, scoring at least 42 points each game and 47 at Mississippi State and Auburn. Arkansas’ PPP figure after the break stands at 1.26.

Bud Walton at its best

The Razorbacks’ SEC home opener against Tennessee sold out more than a week ahead of time. The excitement leading up to the game was discernible with Arkansas needed one more win to at last garner the national attention it felt was long overdue.

Being only 24, I wasn’t around for the days when Nolan Richardson’s teams had the place consistently rocking. But that afternoon I felt like I got a glimpse into the 40 Minutes of Hell heyday.

Covering the basketball team my final two years of college, I was in the building for some great Arkansas performances and legendary moments, including Michael Qualls’ last-second dunk against Kentucky and Arkansas’ 110-80 throttling of Ole Miss in 2014 — Arkansas made 17 of 30 3-pointers — that prompted Kikko Haydar to announce the program’s return.

But Dec. 30 was just different. The 18,000-plus that packed the arena did make a difference. I had heard Bud Walton loud before, but not like that. Not at a fever pitch for minutes on end.

This team, maybe more than any other, plays the home crowd so well and feeds off its energy. Daryl Macon is the prime example, hyping up fans following dunks and big shots. Macon loves Bud Walton, and Bud Walton loves him right back. He has a great feel for the moment when he's in it.

The crowd had a lot to cheer for as Macon, Barford and Gafford each delivered game-changing moments in Arkansas’ comeback. Arkansas’ 22-point effort in the overtime, which I'll get to later, was also something behold.

With a pair of rivalry games upcoming, I’m eager to see the fan turnout — especially Saturday vs. Missouri — and how Arkansas responds after a disappointing road trip. Sharkansas made its first appearance vs. Minnesota, and against Tennessee three people in gold paint acted as statues behind the basket during Vols free throws and in stairways randomly throughout the game. I want to see what’s next.

Disappearance of C.J. Jones

Dudley Dawson said it best in our basketball forum: C.J. Jones is in a bonafide slump.

Mike Anderson is on record saying Jones is the best pure shooter he’s coached, better even than the silky Dusty Hannahs or Marcus Denmon at Missouri, who shot 45 percent from 3 in Anderson's final year at Missouri. But over the last four games, Jones has been virtually invisible.

He began the season slow, knocking down just 2 of 10 3-pointers in four games. He then bounced back in a big way and reeled off a terrific five-game stretch in which he made at least three 3-pointers and shot 53 percent from deep, taking Arkansas’ offense to another level (1.25 points per possession).

Arkansas shot a sizzling 50 percent from 3 in those games with Jones on the floor versus 27.1 when he sat.

He lit up then-No. 14 Minnesota and Oral Roberts for five 3s, but since the Christmas break he hasn’t been the same and his lack of production has limited playing time.

Jones is 2 off 11 from the floor and 0 of 5 from 3 in a team-low 26 minutes in SEC play with both makes coming on transition layups. Many believed his scoring output would put the Razorbacks over the top offensively.

Entering league play, Arkansas was the lone team in the conference with five players averaging in double figures. Jones’ 10.5 points and instant offense off the bench was invaluable. His last 3-point make came against CSU Bakersfield with the game well in hand.

In film review of Arkansas’ three league games, Jones has gotten perimeter shots from seemingly everywhere but the top of the key. I think that’s normal, though, considering he’s one of the team’s best moving without the ball, using picks from Arkansas’ bigs to try to free himself for an open look. The ball doesn’t stick in his hands either, which I like.

Against Tennessee, he was 0 of 3 from deep with two misses on the left wing and one on the right (blocked by Grant Williams with 3 on the shot clock). At Mississippi State, he misfired on a left corner 3 and a long 2 on the right wing. Both were pretty well contested. And against the Tigers, he came up empty on a pair of right corner triples with clear sight of the rim. Neither time did he have a hand in his face.

His first 3 at Auburn was by far his best look in some time. He was left unattended following some confusion on the Tigers’ part. One positive: he followed his miss and found a wide open Adrio Bailey under the basket for an easy bucket. His second attempt — again uncontested — failed to draw iron.

Not known to be a great defensive player, Anderson has little choice but to sit the sophomore if his shot isn’t falling or he’s hesitant to pull the trigger. Here, he’s reluctant to launch even with his defender’s hands at his side:

A deeper look at Jones’ on/off numbers through three games turn up some staggering figures that fall in line with his woes. Arkansas averages just .67 points per possession in Jones’ 49 offensive trips, and in his 26 minutes the Hogs are shooting a dismal 13.3 percent from 3, according to HoopLens.

Arkansas’ Jones-less lineups (175 possessions) shoot the 3 at a 41 percent rate and average 1.22 points per trip.

Anderson could use a resurgence from Jones in the near future, especially with road trips to Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M and home games against Ole Miss and Oklahoma State mixed in to close out January.

Outstanding in overtime

Against Tennessee, Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford became the first Arkansas players to score 28+ points in the same game since joining the SEC in the early 90s. They were phenomenal.

It took overtime to get there, but both walked away with career highs — Macon 33, Barford 28 — and put on a show over the final nine minutes of play that we’ll remember for a long, long time.

The two combined to make five of Arkansas’ six shots in overtime. Macon got a pair of buckets driving to the basket before essentially calling game with a 3-pointer on the left wing with the shot clock at 6. Barford also got one of his buckets from the SEC logo with under 10 to shoot. He then added a transition layup, blistering down the court for an easy two.

The senior guards were playing at their peak in the extra time, soaring from wild finish to regulation. I touched on Macon’s ability to play the crowd earlier, and after his 3 to put Arkansas up eight with 1:13 to play, you can really see what I mean:

Normally, teams with a lead in the final minute of overtime will turn conservative and milk some clock. Anton Beard wasn’t having that, and pulled a right-corner 3 to put Arkansas up 11 and send the arena into a frenzy. I actually didn’t mind the shot, regardless if it went down or not. Arkansas was playing at its pace and it wasn’t forced. The Razorbacks are really good early in the shot clock.

Barford pushed the pace and found Beard open for 3 with 25 on the shot clock. That’s just how Arkansas operated in overtime. There wasn’t a lot of thinking involved. The guys let their instincts take over and that’s when they’re at their best.

Arkansas made all four attempts inside the 3-point line and knocked down both looks beyond it. Arkansas didn’t reach 22 points in the first half until C.J. Jones got a layup to go following Gafford’s baseball pass to Macon with more than 14 minutes off the clock. It put up 22 points in overtime, averaging a crazy 1.69 points per possession.

Extra possession

I'm going to make a semi-bold prediction on this week's games and say Arkansas wins one of the two – LSU, Missouri – by 12 or more.

Arkansas is due for a breakout game offensively while correcting some things on the other end. The defense is allowing 1.15 points per possession through three SEC games, but I don't see it continuing this week.

This team is really good in Bud Walton, scoring 1.26 PPP in better than 600 possessions. I'll also go ahead and call a C.J. Jones revival, too. He'll knock down a couple of 3s this week and begin to come out of his slump.

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