Postgame Thoughts: LSU 94, Arkansas 88 (OT)

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2019
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford walks to the bench in the closing moments of regulation against LSU Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, during the second half of play in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford walks to the bench in the closing moments of regulation against LSU Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, during the second half of play in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas can no longer count on wins inside Bud Walton Arena, and that, arguably, hasn't been the case at any point in Mike Anderson's tenure.

Saturday, LSU handed the Razorbacks their second consecutive home loss and fourth of the season, joining Western Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Florida by edging Arkansas 94-88 in overtime. The four home losses is tied for the most in a single season since Anderson arrived at Arkansas for the 2011-12 season.

The Razorbacks typically play their best basketball - showcase basketball - at home on weekends, but that, too, has somewhat been thrown out the window in recent weeks. Since winning 14 consecutive Saturday home games from Dec. 3, 2016 to Dec. 1, 2018, Arkansas has lost two of its last three such games.

"I don’t like losing. I don’t like losing period — home, away, it don’t matter. I don’t," Anderson said. "So me and my staff and our players, we’ll find a way. We’re going to find a way. We always do. Our teams will continue to get better."

The marquee matchup on Saturday was Daniel Gafford and LSU freshman forward Naz Reid - both of whom are projected to go in the first round of this year's NBA draft. Gafford dominated for Arkansas, scoring a career-high 32 points on an efficient 14/19 from the floor. There was absolutely a concerted effort to feed the Razorbacks' lone pro the basketball, and Gafford played like a lottery pick against the Tigers on the offensive end.

Gafford added 16 points on 8/12 from the floor in the first half to lead Arkansas, poured in 12 more in the second half on 4/5 shooting and finished his night with two more buckets in overtime - the Razorbacks' lone scores of the extra period until Isaiah Joe's meaningless two-point jumper with five seconds to play and Arkansas down 94-86.

While Gafford was obviously stellar offensively, LSU coach Will Wade credited Arkansas forwards Adrio Bailey and Reggie Chaney for knocking down jumpers that ultimately forced defenders to, in a way, respect their shot and pull help away from Gafford, giving him angles and lanes to score essentially at will in 1-on-1 matchups with LSU's bigs.

Wade said he watched Anderson's press conference on Friday afternoon and knew Arkansas would play inside-out more than it did in the loss to Florida, but his players still didn't have much of an answer for Gafford, who had scored a total of 20 points in the Razorbacks' first two SEC games.

"It's always a big factor of me getting the ball," Gafford said. "Each time I touch it ... coach says every time I touch it good things happen. Every time I touch it I try to make the best play, try to score or I try to get it out to a shooter. Most of the time I score, but I mean, it's been one of the big focuses in practices and stuff. It led to the game. The sad thing is we just didn't come out on top tonight."

On the other side, Reid was every bit the problem Gafford was for LSU. The freshman scored a team-high 27 points in 26 minutes, knocking down 10/12 shots and all four of his 3-point attempts. Reid was deadly from distance and gave Gafford fits in pick-and-pop actions. Reid's 27 points are his most in a game since dropping 29 on UNC-Greensboro in November in LSU's second game.

Reid let Gafford know he wasn't going to back down essentially from LSU's first offensive possession of the game. The freshman drove to the rim and threw down a dunk over Gafford, grabbed the ball out of the net and threw it at Gafford as he began jogging to the other end. Reid was assessed a technical foul after throwing the ball at Gafford, but that sequence told everyone he meant business and he followed through with a tremendous game.

He was a game-high plus-22 when on the floor Saturday.

"The 3-pointers that he hit, those were big 3s," Gafford said of Reid. "Those were some real big plays. He came down, he took his time and he knocked them down because, I mean, we left him wide open, and that's just some ... that's our fault because we have to rotate on him, especially off the ballscreen. But credit to him. He came down, took his time and knocked them down.

"That's what hurt us in overtime because I think they hit back-to-back 3s. It's just some stuff that we need to fix."

LSU also got big-time games from Tremont Waters and little-known junior guard Marlon Taylor, who scored a career-high 21 points on 7/8 from the floor and 6/6 at the line. Prior to Saturday, Taylor had not scored more than 15 points in any game this season. That 15-point game came against Southeastern in LSU's season opener and he'd poured in 10-plus in just one other game - at Houston.

Waters, the sophomore guard who Anderson called one of the best in the country on Friday, recorded his second double-double in three career games against Arkansas, finishing with 17 points and 11 assists. He is now averaging a cool 17.3 points and 10 assists per game against the Razorbacks in his career. It's difficult to pinpoint another guard across the league who controls tempo versus Arkansas the way Waters does.

Waters added after the game that LSU was prepared for the hostile Arkansas crowd when things were tight thanks to Wade blaring the Arkansas fight song and band music on full blast in practice in the days leading into the game.

"You can’t hide from it, you can’t block it out," Waters said.

Back to Arkansas' issues, and there are several. Jalen Harris had yet another troublesome night taking care of the basketball. He finished with six assists and a season-high five turnovers to go with seven points. This past week, Harris totaled nine assists against eight turnovers.

Isaiah Joe has largely disappeared in Arkansas' last two games. After failing to score at least 10 points for the first time all season on Wednesday, it happened again Saturday. Joe scored just 11 points in two games this week, missing on 8/10 3-point attempts and 4/6 shots inside the arc. Against LSU, Joe attempted just one 3-pointer, by far a season low.

Gafford said he isn't concerned with Joe's back-to-back quiet shooting nights then practically listed all the reasons Arkansas needs Joe to whip into shape, and quick.

"He gets down in the gutter with his mind and I have to talk to him sometimes to bring him up because we need every single one of the guys on this team, especially Isaiah with the way he can shoot the ball," Gafford said. "I try to just motivate him every chance I possibly get because we need him and down the stretch he's going to hit shots, but tonight it just wasn't his night - just like anybody else."

When Joe doesn't make shots, it can give the appearance of a very one-dimensional player early on in his college career. Joe will still give great effort defensively, particularly taking charges, but his shot-making has been sorely missed the last week and Arkansas is definitively a different team offensively when he's out of sync.

Anderson added that Joe has to continue to learn to get lost in transition, and that strength in a factor with him. One bump by a defender when Joe puts the ball on the floor and he's off balance and largely neutralized.

Ultimately, the game came down to defensive stops, and Arkansas couldn't come up with enough. The Razorbacks followed up their worst offensive game of the season against Florida with their worst defensive performance of the year, allowing LSU to score at a 1.13 PPP clip.

Arkansas needs to find some answers fast because Tennessee and Ole Miss - the Razorbacks' next two opponents and a combined 27-3 this season - are not teams you want to face on the road while carrying around so many question marks.

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