5 Observations from Arkansas' 84-72 win over Houston

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Manuale Watkins (21) of Arkansas drives to the basket as Morris Dunnigan (5) of Houston defends Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won 84-72.
( Anthony Reyes)
Manuale Watkins (21) of Arkansas drives to the basket as Morris Dunnigan (5) of Houston defends Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won 84-72.

— Five observations from Arkansas’ 84-72 win over Houston.

— Watkins at center of game-changing run

Nearing the stretch run, it looked like the game was shaping up to be just Arkansas’ second close finish this year, a scenario that would provide an interesting gauge of who would step up in crunch time and emerge as a go-to figure on a team with four players averaging double figures and four others averaging six or more.

But Manny Watkins preempted any drama by spearheading a 14-3 run that broke the game open and essentially locked up the victory. Five players scored during the spurt as the Hogs turned a two-point lead into a 77-64 edge, but Watkins led the charge, scoring four points, grabbing three rebounds and dishing two assists during a span that lasted a little more than four minutes and ensured the Hogs would remain unbeaten at home.

Patented floater at a key juncture in the game.

He returns the favor to Dustin Thomas, grabbing the board and pushing it before dropping it off to the junior for a layup in semi-transition.

A career 59.7 percent foul shooter entering the season, Watkins has made all seven attempts this year, including two during the run.

No Watkins highlight would be complete without defense. Here, he switches onto and stonewalls Houston’s Rob Gray, who scored a game-high 22, leveling him off to prevent him from turning the corner and then staying down on the pivots and shot fakes.

Daryl Macon makes the highlight by knocking down this 3-pointer while being fouled and later completing the four-point play, but this sequence is all about Watkins, from the quick hands to force the steal, to the court awareness leading to an immediate feed for the assist to Macon, to the hype celebration after Macon cans the 3.

Watkins finished with six points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and no turnovers in 27 minutes. It had all the markings of a ‘Manny being Manny’ performance. He is the consummate glue guy, a suitable, steadying compliment to almost any lineup Anderson wants to roll out there.

He may start. He may come off the bench. But odds are, he’ll be in the game when it counts, just like he has been much of the last two years.

— Macon shakes off injury in big performance

Daryl Macon credited long-time trainer Dave England for speeding up his recovery from a calf injury he sustained in Saturday’s win over Austin Peay.

Macon didn’t return to that game or practice Sunday after landing on the ball after flushing second-half dunk, but he was back in the starting lineup Tuesday and played a team-high 30 minutes.

And they were a good 30 minutes. Macon finished tied with Dusty Hannahs with a team-high 17 points, knocking down 5 of 9 shots, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. The duo gives Arkansas a pair of guards who aren’t afraid to put up a shot from anywhere inside 26 feet at any point in the shot clock.

Macon plays with an air of self-assuredness. He’s a willing passer, but is always probing for an open shot, whether it be pulling up from 24, knocking down a mid-range shot or finishing in traffic on rim forays. He can do it all and do it with brash flair.

No hesitation. The possession was going nowhere, but Macon made something out of nothing.

Here, he pushes the pace and frees himself with a quick, effective crossover before rising for the mid-range jumper. The play oozes confidence.

He’s averaging 11.4 points and doing it in an efficient manner even with the bravado he plays with, sporting a 60.7 true shooting percentage, best among the eight leading scorers.

— Defense encouraging in win

Houston came into the game averaging 123.4 points per 100 possessions, raw offensive efficiency which ranked No. 4 in the nation. The Cougars haven’t played the toughest schedule (they posted a 94.2 in a 19-point loss at LSU in a game they led at halftime), but they ranked second in the nation in 3-point percentage (45.7) coming in.

Arkansas allowed 107.5 points per 100 on Tuesday, not a great number on the surface. But it was markedly lower than Houston came in averaging and there were encouraging developments, especially in the halfcourt. The Cougars got up more 3-pointers than usual and were nearly 10 percentage points worse than their season average, finishing 8 of 22 (36.4 percent).

Arkansas mixed up its defenses, something Anderson has done liberally throughout the first eight games, alternating between man and zone, a fullcourt look and a more conservative halfcourt scheme. The defense had its good stretches and Houston had its scoring spurts, which is no surprise. The Cougars are a good offensive team. Good offensive teams create open looks.

But the Razorbacks started out the game with several great sequences of defense while building a double-digit lead. The Hogs were locked in and nailed rotations, made smart help plays and closed out on shooters.

Great rotation and hustle on this sequence, especially by Arlando Cook, who traps a ballhandler, then sprints back to the middle of the court to cover for a helping Trey Thompson and then jumps out to thwart a potential drive, leading to a late-clock travel. The Hogs were on the same page there, playing on a string. Fantastic effort and smarts by Cook.

Here, Watkins and Dustin Thomas react well when Kingsley shows, sinking in to take away a role man. The only avenue for an open look is a skip pass to the far corner and it’s a good bet Watkins could recover in time to close out. So instead, Houston goes elsewhere and winds up in a late-clock situation. Jaylen Barford has the right idea in helping and contesting the shot, but bails the Cougars out of a subpar offensive possession with a foul.

The above sequence notwithstanding, Arkansas largely switched across the board 1-5 against the pick-and-roll, a strategy which mostly kept it from being overextended and stuck having to make multiple, quick rotations repeatedly.

For the most part, Arkansas' halfcourt man defense was solid. It did have issues in other areas.

Houston rallied from a 14-point hole as it settled in, with help from the Hogs. The Cougars, one of the slower-paced teams in the nation, took advantage of some lackadaisical sequences from Arkansas.

Two of the Cougars’ four first-half 3-pointers came against a scrambling defense after breaking the Hogs’ press. They created havoc with a clever press break a few times by pitching the ball back to the inbounder, who was sprinting at full speed and quickly into the frontcourt, forcing the defense to react and creating mismatches.

Nice work by Kelvin Sampson.

When Houston did push the pace, the Hogs were at times out of position and gave up easy drives.

The 2-3 look allowed Arkansas to play the passing lanes at times, but it also gave Houston’s talented guards creases to get to the middle of the court and prompt help, collapsing the defense around it and opening up looks for shooters.

Houston missed all seven of its looks during the Hogs’ 14-3 run as Arkansas effectively sealed the game. Some were the result of good defense, like Watkins’ above play. Some were decent looks that just didn’t go in.

It was an uneven performance, but there were moments when, at peak effort and awareness, the Hogs provided a glimpse of a very good defensive lineup with its starters. Something to build on.

— Hannahs excels in sixth-man role

Dusty Hannahs came off the bench for a second straight game as Mike Anderson stuck with the Jaylen Barford-Macon-Watkins-Thomas-Moses Kingsley quintet. For the second straight game, he provided an offensive spark.

Hannahs tied Macon with a team-high 17 points in as many minutes, knocking down 6 of 11 shots and 2 of 5 3-pointers as he outscored Houston’s bench (17-14) by himself. Arkansas’ bench has outscored opponents’ second units 89-26 in the two games Hannahs has come off the bench, an Anderson move that better distributes the scoring and gives the starting lineup a more defensive disposition.

Hannahs was shooting just 32 percent from 3 when Anderson moved him out of the starting lineup, including eight straight misses directly leading up to the Austin Peay game. He’s hit 5 of 10 the last two games. It was only a matter of time before he snapped out of the slump. Tuesday, he benefited from some open looks.

He comes off a simple pindown here, an action he got a ton of open looks from a year ago. The shot was part of a quick 12-0 run the all-bench group that includes Beard, Jones, Cook and Thompson went on over the course of two minutes to give the Hogs an early 25-11 lead.

Hannahs is the unquestioned fulcrum of the offense when he’s out there with the second unit. Here, he comes off a screen and gets the ball, gives it up and gets it back, then shows off his well-rounded scoring ability by getting into the lane for the and-1.

The Beard, Hannahs, Cook, Thompson quartet is obliterating opposing lineups 48-13 in 18:14 worth of time the last two games. C.J. Jones and Adrio Bailey have each spent time as the fifth bench mob member in a unit that is displaying early signs of good chemistry.

It’s not out of the question Hannahs moves back into the starting lineup at some point, perhaps even Saturday. But Anderson remarked that he thought Hannahs was more relaxed coming off the bench after the game Tuesday.

The move balances the lineups. Remember, Anderson brought Hannahs off the bench early last season until it became clear that he was a dynamic scorer on a team that needed it, while, at the same time, Jimmy Whitt was struggling to transition to the college game.

Anderson has options this year, which means he has the leeway to bring Hannahs off the bench and utilize him as a sixth-man scoring machine. Hannahs is averaging 27.6 points per 40 minutes, by far the best on the team and slightly higher than the 26.4 he averaged a year ago.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it sticks, but Anderson’s decision to move his best scorer to the bench has worked as well as Anderson could’ve hoped so far.

— Depth, balance shine

Jaylen Barford entered Tuesday averaging 24.1 minutes per game, but struggled while only playing 15 minutes, finishing with just two points on 1 of 5 shooting with one assist and two turnovers, the fifth time in eight games he’s had as many or more turnovers as assists.

Arkansas was -2 with him on the floor. As a result, he sat the final 14:44, one of several examples of the Hogs’ depth. That decision would’ve been tougher to make last year, but Anderson has more options — he’s up to 11 players in the regular rotation now that Adrio Bailey has earned meaningful minutes in three straight games.

Macon, Hannahs and Moses Kingsley (14 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) were the leading scorers Tuesday, but the Hogs got key contributions, big and small, up and down the lineup.

Dustin Thomas scored 11, grabbed five rebounds and dished three assists in 23 minutes — he and Watkins had several nice connections during the game-altering run.

Anton Beard scored nine points and helped run the offense late with Barford on the bench. He’s repeatedly shown he’s not one to shy away from taking a key shot late in the game with the shot clock dwindling.

Beard is good about managing to find a way to get back to his dominant left hand around the rim even when the situation calls for the right.

Other bit players made contributions, too, including Trey Thompson scoring two buckets in the middle stages of the second half, showing his vision on two assists for 3-pointers and blocking two shots for the third time in eight games this year (had six in 43 games his first two years) and C.J. Jones coming off the bench and hitting a 3-pointer in his seven minutes of action.

Anderson has options this year. And some pretty good ones, too. The Hogs are a legit 11 deep and have

Stray Thoughts

— Kingsley took a step back as far as handling double teams after picking them apart to the tune of a career-high five assists against Austin Peay. Still had some nice passes. Aside from his shot blocking, his passing may be his most impressive skill so far this season.

— The bench has been dominant since Hannahs moved to the sixth-man role, but that backcourt/wing trio of Beard, Hannahs and Jones is one that could struggle mightily on defense. The thought process is that they should be able to score a bunch and will theoretically have the luxury of playing against other bench units, but Anderson will have to monitor the opposing team’s rotations, because Hannahs and Jones have a tendency to fall asleep or miscommunicate a lot. Jones actually made a nice help rotation in the second half and was subbed out the same play after a foul was called elsewhere.

— Lineups with Bailey and Kingsley have largely been underwhelming even though it would appear to be the Hogs’ best rim-protecting group in theory. Arkansas was outscored 11-5 when they shared the court for four-plus minutes against Houston and have failed to gain traction overall, a -6 in a little more than 14 minutes so far this year.

— Jaylen Barford was whistled for two travels on spin moves that were plain missed calls.

— Thompson finally, finally, made a mid-range jumper. He’d had some ugly misses and been hesitant to shoot others, but swished a baseline 15-footer midway through the second half. He hits those shots routinely in practice. Solid game for him.


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