Columbia swing puts hurt on UA

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2019
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, left, argues a call with a referee during the first 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 head coach Mike Anderson, left, argues a call with a referee during the first 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)

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The University of Arkansas men's basketball team thrust itself back into the NCAA Tournament conversation with a four-game SEC winning streak fueled by defense and solid rebounding.

Now the Razorbacks (14-10, 5-6 SEC) are looking at a two-game losing streak and are back under .500 in league play after suffering long defensive lapses in losing both games in a Columbia two-step.

Arkansas fell 77-65 in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday after the Gamecocks nailed 10 of 15 three-pointers and put together a 40-15 run to end the game.

In Tuesday's 79-78 loss to Missouri in Columbia, Mo., the Razorbacks struggled defensively out of the gates.

Missouri scored on seven of its first eight possessions and built a 26-12 lead at the 10:52 mark of the first half, thanks to 5-of-12 three-point shooting and a series of second-chance points created by 6 offensive rebounds.

Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson pointed out a rebound and put-back by guard Ronnie Suggs that extended Missouri's lead to 74-69 with 3:13 remaining as reminiscent of the Tigers' offensive work in the opening half.

"They got second-chance points in the first half," Anderson said. "We did a little bit better job in the second half. But even going down the stretch it was a three-point game, and I thought they got a big, big offensive rebound. Maybe the ball just bounced their way."

Missouri won the rebounding battle 39-33, including 16-13 on the offensive glass. Arkansas has trailed its opponents in rebounding for nine consecutive SEC games since outrebounding Florida 42-39 on Jan. 9.

In some games, such as back-to-back victories over Georgia and at LSU, huge rebounding deficits did not spell doom for the Hogs. In others, like Tuesday's loss to Missouri, the rebounding disadvantage smarted.

Despite the disparity, Arkansas managed to fight back. The Razorbacks trailed 65-55 with 9:10 remaining after a three-point shot from Mitchell Smith, a redshirt sophomore forward from Van Buren.

Arkansas closed to within four, 65-61, on a pair of Mason Jones three-point plays in the next 1:13. They got the deficit to 79-78 with the the ball in the final 10 seconds, but the Razorbacks could never nose ahead.

"Finishing," Anderson said in response to what has happened the past two games as opposed to the four-game SEC winning streak. "I mean, you saw it. Finishing. You look at the South Carolina game. I thought that was probably some of the best 25 to 27 minutes we've played. And it's a tie game with less than three minutes to go. And we didn't finish.

"You look here tonight. We're mounting a comeback, and the key is you've got to make plays and we didn't."

The Razorbacks got few defensive stops in the last four minutes after drawing within 72-69 on consecutive three-point plays from Daniel Gafford, who scored a game-high 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting.

Suggs hit a three-pointer from the right corner a little earlier in addition to his follow shot in the lane. Xavier Pinson made three shots in the final 5:52, including a step-back shot from the left wing late in the shot clock for a 76-72 Missouri lead.

With the drama building in the final 90 seconds, Kevin Puryear looked trapped in the lane before arcing a pass over the 6-11 Gafford to 6-10 Jeremiah Tilmon, who dunked for a 78-74 lead with 1:12 to play.

"What we need to do from now on is we've got to come out ready to play basketball," said Gafford, who scored Arkansas' first 10 points while his teammates opened 0 for 9 in the first 7:45. "We can't just come out and just let the team hit us first and then try to hit them back at the end. We've got to come out and hit teams first and make sure we put them in that hole and they can't come back."

The Razorbacks -- who have had back-to-back home games only once in SEC play, which resulted in losses to Florida and LSU on Jan. 9 and 12 -- alternate home and road games the rest of the season, starting with Saturday's 7:30 p.m. tip against Mississippi State in Walton Arena.

Saturday’s game

MISSISSIPPI STATE AT ARKANSAS

WHEN 7:30 p.m.

WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville

RECORDS Mississippi State 17-7, 5-6 SEC; Arkansas 14-10, 5-6

TV SEC Network

Sports on 02/14/2019

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