Postgame Thoughts: Missouri 79, Arkansas 78

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Arkansas's Daniel Gafford, left, reacts after getting called for a foul in front of teammate Mason Jones, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 79-78. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
Arkansas's Daniel Gafford, left, reacts after getting called for a foul in front of teammate Mason Jones, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 79-78. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

Plain and simple, Arkansas' defense left a lot to be desired Tuesday at Missouri.

Mike Anderson spoke as recently as Monday about how he felt his young team was still performing at a fairly high level on the defensive end, despite allowing 46 second-half points in a late meltdown at South Carolina on Saturday.

The Razorbacks then allowed Missouri to score 46 in the first half and take a 10-point lead into halftime.

Missouri is far from an offensive juggernaut. It's one of more than a handful of reasons why the Tigers entered Tuesday night 2-8 in SEC play. In conference games only, Missouri was No. 12 in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 95.5 points per 100 possessions through 10 games.

Arkansas allowed the Tigers, who were also without sophomore sharpshooter Mark Smith for the sixth consecutive game, to score at a 1.314 PPP rate in the first half and 1.197 for the game. Smith hasn't played since rolling his ankle in the final minute of the Tigers' first meeting with the Razorbacks in late January, when he scored 22 points. But sometimes one player's absence presents opportunities for others.

That was the case for Missouri guards Jordan Geist and Xavier Pinson, who combined for 29 points and five 3-pointers in the win. Geist had been consistent over the last five games, averaging 12.3 points, but Pinson scored in double figures for just the fourth time in what is now 11 SEC games.

Missouri also did a much better job taking care of the ball Tuesday, coughing it up just 11 times as opposed to 24 in the first meeting. Those 24 turnovers a couple of weeks ago resulted in 27 Arkansas points. The Razorbacks' chances to run were minimized in the loss. Neither team scored a single fast-break point and Arkansas had just 12 points off Tigers turnovers.

Sophomore forward Jeremiah Tilmon scored an SEC-high 21 points in the win and was just a bucket shy of matching his season-high of 23 points against Xavier in December. Tilmon is also part of a team that ranked 333rd in the nation in block rate coming into the game - dead last among Power 5 conference schools. Tilmon blocked three shots Tuesday after rejecting just three shots over his last nine games played dating to Jan. 8.

All in all, Arkansas played well enough offensively to get a win on the road. The Razorbacks' offensive rating in the loss was actually tied for third best in a game all season - 116.0. Only in wins over Colorado State, FIU and Montana State was Arkansas' offense as efficient as it was in Columbia.

But, an 8-of-12 shooting finish by Missouri over the final 10:56 of the game negated a top 3 offensive night of the season.

Daniel Gafford turned in a tremendous bounce-back game against the Tigers, pouring in 26 points and grabbing eight rebounds on 12-of-17 from the floor. It's the third time in Arkansas' last four SEC games Gafford has gone for 20-plus, and the fourth time he's done so in league play this year.

Gafford was aggressive early and was the Razorbacks' only offense in the game's opening minutes. He scored Arkansas' first 10 points, and at one time he was 7-of-8 from the floor while his teammates were a combined 1-of-11. He responded from a rough outing at South Carolina in a big way and stayed out of foul trouble, which allowed him to largely dominate in the restricted area and keep Arkansas within striking distance.

You also have to commend him for continuing to battle and fight despite taking a beating for most of the night, including a nice forearm shiver to the kidney from Tigers forward Reed Nikko that forced him to come out of the lineup for a few minutes.

Isaiah Joe was solid again. He needed only one 3-pointer to tie Rotnei Clarke's freshman record for 3-pointers in a season, and he added four, smashing the record with still a month to play in the regular season. Joe was especially good in the second half when he scored 13 of his 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting and 3-of-5 from deep.

Arkansas, though, did do just enough to give itself a chance to win with 10 seconds to play. Jalen Harris, who had just assisted on Gafford's final bucket of the game to cut the Missouri lead to one, drew an offensive foul on Pinson, giving the Razorbacks one final shot. Out of the timeout, it was clear Anderson wanted Harris and Gafford in a ball screen at the top of the key.

Missouri played it pretty well, but I don't think Harris was aggressive enough coming off the pick. He ran at Tilmon then picked up his dribble around the left elbow and threw up a desperation heave that fell well short of the rim and short of Gafford's outstretched arms.

It was a head-scratching sequence of events, there's no doubt about it, and another example of Anderson's team being unable to get what it wanted in a crucial spot late.

The loss drops Arkansas to 14-10 and 5-6 in SEC play with seven regular-season games to go. This loss, more so than last Saturday's at South Carolina, damages greatly the Razorbacks' already-slim NCAA Tournament hopes. Minus winning the SEC Tournament, Arkansas would probably have to run the table to get into the NCAA field.

The good news for Arkansas, if there is any right now, is that its next four home games are all on Saturday. Under Anderson, the Razorbacks are 44-7 in Bud Walton Arena on Saturdays, when crowds are typically larger and create a better home-court advantage. But, they're just 2-2 in such games this season.

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