Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Postgame Thoughts: South Carolina 77, Arkansas 65
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is shown during a game against South Carolina on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Columbia, S.C.
"Keep executing and do what you did to get the lead. I think that's the biggest key. ... I think the key is to be able to do what you're doing to get that lead. You've got to be able to come down and execute, get stops and build on momentum. I don't think we take advantage of the momentum all the time. We've got to learn that other part of when you get that lead, increase that lead. You've got to be able to put that pedal down to the metal, and that's a learning curve."
The above quote is from Mike Anderson's press conference on Thursday afternoon previewing Saturday's game at South Carolina. That was a couple of days after letting a 10-point lead slip away in a win against winless Vanderbilt.
I figure we will hear a similar quote from today's game - Arkansas' first loss in SEC play since Jan. 19 at Ole Miss.
The Razorbacks have an uncanny habit of grabbing double-figure leads and blowing them in the final 10 minutes of games, a time when Anderson says he believes his teams should begin to take advantage of their opponents. It happened against LSU and Vanderbilt, although Arkansas won those games thanks to some late-game heroics, and at South Carolina on Saturday.
Everything, it seems, fell apart and the Razorbacks lost every ounce of their poise and composure shortly after junior forward Adrio Bailey threw down one of the biggest and best dunks we've seen by an Arkansas player all season long. It truly was a vicious dunk, but Anderson's team simply disintegrated from there.
The Gamecocks reeled off 12 consecutive points following Bailey's dunk and wound up scoring 22 of the game's next 26 points to take a five-point lead with a little under nine minutes to play. For the next five minutes, it was a back-and-forth game, almost predictably coming down to the final minute as the Razorbacks' previous two games had.
Nope. South Carolina, after a Jalen Harris bucket cut the Gamecocks' lead to 67-65, ended the game on a 10-0 run over the final two minutes, 55 seconds, snapping Arkansas' four-game winning steak in SEC play in pretty stunning fashion. The issues were plenty on both ends.
Offensively, I don't believe it to be a positive thing when Harris is leading the team in shot attempts. He did score a career-high 17 points in the loss, but it took him 16 shots to get there - also the most in his career. The Razorbacks, this season, are 1-4 when Harris takes 10-plus shots in a game. The only win came in a late January home game against Georgia, arguably the second-worst team in the SEC. He's now taken at least 12 shots in three of the last five games.
On top of the 16 shot attempts, Harris turned the ball over five times, tying the most in a game in his career. The handful of turnovers was a bit strange to see considering Harris had coughed the ball up a total of five times over the last five games. He had been valuing the basketball much more in that span since the Razorbacks' four-game losing streak - 16 turnovers in four games.
Secondly, Daniel Gafford was essentially a non-factor in the loss. He finished with only eight points, a season-low and his fewest points in a game since the loss to Butler in the NCAA Tournament last March, and five rebounds. He was 4-of-5 from the floor in the loss, but he was especially invisible late in the game and looked gassed on both ends.
Defensively, Gafford didn't even leave his feet to attempt to block a Chris Silva shot at the rim in the closing minutes, and he leaned on his matchup far too much on the other end. In 17 second-half minutes, Gafford scored four points on two shots and simply didn't appear engaged offensively.
His usage rate - a measure of personal possessions when a player is on the court, assigning credit or blame when his actions end a possession either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover - of 10.1 percent was fourth among the Razorbacks' starters, per StatBroadcast, and far and away the lowest of the season.
South Carolina, which ranks eighth in the SEC in offensive efficiency this season, is not a juggernaut on that end. Frank Martin's teams rarely are, but once Martin peeled the paint off the locker room walls at halftime with his speech, the Gamecocks largely put a stop to the sloppy turnovers and instead turned those possessions into looks for freshmen A.J. Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant, and Silva.
Arkansas was dictating pace in the first half as it went small with Gafford off the floor with two early fouls. He exited the game with 15-plus minutes before halftime and the Razorbacks forced 15 first-half turnovers, which resulted in 16 points and a four-point halftime lead. Lawson, though, torched Arkansas in the second half, tying an SEC-high with 24 points on 4-of-5 from 3-point range. He also scored 24 points in a win over Vanderbilt on Jan. 16.
Lawson scored 16 of his 24 points after halftime on 5-of-9 from the floor and 2-of-3 from 3-point range. To make matters worse for Arkansas, his four made 3-pointers on Saturday were the most he's made in any game this season. Bryant added 17 points as well - the most points he's scored since dropping 19 on North Greenville, which sounds like a high school - in late December. The 17 points are a career-high in SEC play.
It's fairly inexcusable for the Razorbacks to not only let a pair of freshmen light them up and turn the game on a dime in no time at all, but to completely collapse in the second half the way they did. Arkansas was rolling along with a 13-point lead with under 16 minutes to play. Bailey threw down his dunk and all of the momentum was on the Razorbacks' side. South Carolina looked shook for a moment.
But Arkansas again failed to put its foot on an opponent's throat, and this time it cost it a somewhat valuable win. Now, the Razorbacks have to regroup ahead of their trip to Missouri on Tuesday.
All in all, it feels like a very deflating loss for a young team. Arkansas had everything working in its favor, then all of a sudden it let off the gas and fell back on its heels. Where was the leadership? Where was the calming presence? These are things you can't win without on the road.
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