Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year twice.
Finding the way new UA mantra
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is shown on the sideline during a game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The close ones had been going against the University of Arkansas men's basketball team, but the Razorbacks flipped the script in the past two games.
Arkansas overcame deficits in the final seconds to win 90-89 at LSU last Saturday and beat Vanderbilt 69-66 on Tuesday night at Walton Arena.
Arkansas men vs South Carolina
WHEN 2:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C.
RECORDS Arkansas 14-8, 5-4 SEC. South Carolina 11-11, 6-3.
SERIES Arkansas leads 20-13
TELEVISION SEC Network
RADIO Razorbacks Sports Network
The Razorbacks (14-8, 5-4 SEC) had been 2-6 in games that went down to the final seconds -- including overtime losses to Texas and their home matchup against LSU -- before the recent victories over the Tigers and Commodores.
"I think you learn from your failures," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "Most times in life, that's what you learn from.
"Now we're just learning how to win, learning how to make plays, staying poised."
Arkansas sophomore guard Mason Jones scored on a drive in the lane with 22 seconds left -- with sophomore forward Daniel Gafford, who had scored a team-high 23 points, and point guard Jalen Harris having fouled out -- to give the Razorbacks a 90-89 lead at LSU. Then the Tigers missed three shots on their final possession.
Against Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks took a 67-66 lead on freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson's three-pointer with 14.8 seconds left. They held on to win when Harris drew a charge, Jones hit two free throws and Vanderbilt's Matt Ryan missed a three-point attempt with two seconds left.
"We've had to learn from those games, and we've had to come out and execute something," Gafford, who led Arkansas with 28 points against Vanderbilt, said of the close losses. "We finished."
The Razorbacks made seven passes on the possession that ended with Embery-Simpson's go-ahead three-pointer.
Gafford twice passed the ball to Embery-Simpson -- including the assist on his game-winning shot -- after Vanderbilt's defenders collapsed on him.
"I thought they trusted each other," Anderson said. "That, to me, is the growth right there.
"There are a a lot of teams where a guy with the ball says, 'I need to make the play.' But I thought Dan did a good job of getting through that double-team, because they had him sandwiched in there.
"As a matter of fact, the shot came to Keyshawn earlier and he turned it down, and Dan got it to him again and he was wide open. That's just trusting your teammates, and that's the thing I talk about having patience with this team. They'll start figuring out their roles."
Arkansas shot 45.1 percent (23 of 51) from the field against Vanderbilt and had 18 assists.
"That's sharing the basketball," Anderson said of having an assist on all but five baskets. "We didn't shoot it great, but we shot it pretty efficient."
The Razorbacks had eight turnovers in the first 12 minutes, but just three more the rest of the game to finish with 11.
"It was weird," Anderson said of his team's ball-handling issues. "And think about the last time we played them here. The same thing took place."
Arkansas had eight turnovers by the 12:40 mark of the first half in its 72-54 victory over Vanderbilt at Walton Arena last season -- including on its first five possessions -- and finished with 15.
What did the Razorbacks do to stop turning it over Tuesday night?
"Just play basketball," Anderson said. "Stop thinking. Start playing instinctively and trusting each other and getting the ball to the guys with the hot hand."
Defensively, the Razorbacks forced 14 Vanderbilt turnovers and drew seven charges.
"It's getting contagious," Anderson said of the charges. "We're building a wall. I thought we did a good job getting our bodies in there and squaring up."
Arkansas was ahead at LSU by 18 points, 66-48 with 13:45 left, before the Tigers came back to take an 89-88 lead at the 2:01 mark.
After trailing Vanderbilt by 10 points in the first half, the Razorbacks came back to take a 10-point lead, 56-46, with 10:17 left. But the Commodores fought back to take a 66-64 lead on Joe Toye's three-point basket with 39.4 seconds left.
"Now we've got to go though the other phase where when we get a team down, we got to learn how to keep them down," Anderson said. "We're up 10, let's keep building on that. Doing the things that got us there."
Sports on 02/07/2019
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.