COMMENTARY: Stars, not reserves, are supposed to shine

By: Brandon Marcello
Published: Saturday, March 6, 2010

— These Arkansas Razorbacks were in command. They were in control. They were attentive in the huddle during timeouts, and never seemed threatened to lose their stronghold on a game that was going their way.

Then, something happened and it wasn’t unexpected.

Suddenly the big games by reserves Marcus Britt and Julysses Nobles were hurting the Hogs. Ole Miss’ zone defense had put a foot down on the throats of Marshawn Powell and Michael Washington and the frontcourt duo hit just 6-of-23 shots.

Simply put, Arkansas went to the same well too often.

Suddenly, with the pressure on Arkansas to make shots, the backups with big games were faltering.

And the stars didn’t get many attempts to clean up the mess.

The result, of course, was a 68-66 loss for Arkansas. The Rebels ended the game with a 12-1 run in a game the Hogs led 65-56 late.

Arkansas scored just six more points after Washington hit a layup with 9:41 remaining, and those were mostly at the hands of the reserves, who were suddenly playing like stars.


Get the latest Razorback news and views from Brandon Marcello on The Slophouse blog.

Britt had four of those points during the stretch, but when it mattered most he and Nobles were unable to come up big.

Perhaps most baffling was the Hogs’ inability to foul Ole Miss with precious seconds melting off the clock. Finally, nine seconds after Nobles hit a free throw to put Arkansas within 67-66, Britt fouled Chris Warren with 11 seconds remaining.

Someone blew an assignment as Ole Miss advanced the ball up the court.

“I believe it was Marcus,” Arkansas Coach John Pelphrey said. “I think he actually told guys not to foul at one point in time when they crossed halfcourt.”

This column isn’t meant to bring down individuals, especially when it comes to young men playing basketball. But when a team with stars is relying on reserves throughout an entire game, that plan is bound to break at some point.

The most likely time for that to happen is in a pressure situation, like Arkansas was experiencing in the final four minutes.

The name of the game in the first half was balance, when Arkansas led 43-33 at halftime. Three Hogs led the team with eight points, and two more were close behind with six points.

By the end of the game, Rotnei Clarke led the way with 13 points. Following him were Britt (12 points) and Nobles (11 points).

Britt looked unstoppable at times. Over the course of the season, he seemed to have perfected the mid-range floater and pull-up shot from the left and right side of the basket. He hit his first five shots and the defensive star was having the game of his life.

But when the pressure was on, Britt — like many reserves would in that spot — faltered.

Britt missed his first and only shot on a 3-pointer with the game spiraling out of control. Nobles, a 57 percent shooter at the foul line, hit 1-of-2 freebies late and had a layup attempt blocked as time wound down. Only then did Washington, one of Arkansas’ stars, get a shot as the buzzer sounded.

The shot, of course, fell short. Washington fell to the floor, slowly rose to his feet and feverishly tossed an armband in frustration.

Senior Day was supposed to be one for the seniors to shine. Instead, it was the reserves who got their shots but couldn’t come up big like their counterparts had in the past.

And, really, this isn’t a knock on Britt or Nobles. They both played out of their minds and had, arguably, the best games of their careers.

No, you see, it was up to the stars on the team to step up, especially with Courtney Fortson riding the bench after fouling out with 56 seconds remaining.

And that’s what makes this loss frustrating for fans, because the final play of the game was meant to go to a star.

Clarke, who hit 3-of-7 three-pointers, had a play drawn up for him during the timeout with 8.2 seconds remaining. The sharpshooter was supposed to come free on a double screen by Washington and Powell, but that didn’t happen and Nobles tried to create on a drive through the lane.

Going up for the layup, Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway blocked Nobles’ shot. It was his third block of the game and one of seven for the Rebels.

The difference, in this game, were in the stars.

Ole Miss’ Chris Warren scored 31 points and hit the 3-pointer to give the Rebels their first lead of the game with 53 seconds remaining.

He was the star, and has been most of the season for the Rebels. And the game plan was simple.

“He’s the guy that you want the ball in his hands,” Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. “And even though he got off to a slow start, ... he continued to keep us in the game with his offense.”

Arkansas kept up for the most part with its reserves, but didn’t allow its stars to shine late on Senior Day.

Brandon Marcello is the online sports editor for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He updates The Slophouse, a blog covering the Razorbacks on WholeHogSports.com.

Discussion

Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.