Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs put on another defensive clinic at South Carolina
South Carolina guard Seventh Woods (23) is defended by Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
In the last couple of weeks it has become customary for Arkansas to put on a clinic on the defensive end.
The Razorbacks did it again Tuesday, squeezing the life out of South Carolina's offense in their 101-73 road win. The Gamecocks shot 37.5% for the game, and Arkansas set the tone in the first half by limiting them to 12 of 43 (28%) from the floor.
The Razorbacks turned defense into offense, grabbed a 49-32 lead at halftime and never looked back. And at just the right time, Arkansas appears to be as aggressive and connected defensively as it has been all season.
Eric Musselman's team boasts the No. 13 defensive efficiency rating in the country, according to KenPom.
“I thought we had good ball pressure,” Musselman said. “I thought we had active hands, trying to eliminate as many assists as we can, or direct-line drive passes. We know that they cut hard and backdoor cut. We wanted them to backdoor cut through the middle of our chest.
“I thought we did a good job of that, and I thought we were physical. Our goal tonight was to hold them to 10 or less offensive rebounds, so we were minus-3 on our goal, but I thought we did a pretty good job for the most part of folding back and getting defensive rebounds.”
The Razorbacks forced 14 Gamecock turnovers and cashed in with 19 points. They came away with 10 steals in the win as well, their most in a game since Feb. 2 against Mississippi State.
Tuesday also continued a two-week trend of Arkansas holding opponents to one of their worst offensive efficiency ratings of the season. Here is a look at the last four games, per KenPom data:
• Florida — 89.1 (second lowest in 2020-21)
• Alabama — 85.6 (third lowest)
• LSU — 96.5 (fourth lowest)
• South Carolina — 87.4 (third lowest)
One month ago, Mississippi State also posted its lowest offensive efficiency figure of the season and worst mark since Feb. 7, 2015 — also at Arkansas.
“That’s just been such a focus in the locker room, in practice,” Moses Moody said of Arkansas’ defense. “This game in particular, it was really just toughness, just playing with that tenacity, and that showed a lot on defense.
“It’s really just stopping the other team from scoring the ball and having that alpha dog mentality on offense and defense.”
The Razorbacks got standout defensive showings from a handful of pieces. Connor Vanover finished with four blocks, and he rejected three shots in the game’s opening three minutes. The 7-3 forward now has at least one block in 10 straight games.
JD Notae, known more for his gunner style of play offensively, matched a career high with five steals. He has nine over Arkansas’ last three games, flashing hot hands and a knack for playing passing lanes.
Notae now ranks fourth in SEC play in steal percentage, according to KenPom, at 3.8%.
“He is playing a lot better defense, and he’s causing steals, so I think that definitely, in my opinion, has really helped us a lot,” Musselman said. “To get 10 steals is a lot in a game. I think we have more active hands.
“And we did change our defensive concept on pick-and-roll coverage as well. … Our guys know where we’re funneling the ball to.”
Arkansas freshman Davonte Davis scored only four points on 1 of 2 from the floor and struggled with turnovers, but he was engaged defensively, picking up two steals. Moody added a pair of steals, too, to go with 28 points on 10 of 15 shooting.
Justin Smith had a steal as well for the sixth straight game.
The Razorbacks limited two of South Carolina’s top offensive players in AJ Lawson and Keyshawn Bryant to 31 points on 32 shots. Jermaine Couisnard, who scored a season-high 23 points in the Gamecocks’ win over Georgia last weekend, finished with eight points.
“One thing, coach always has the signs around the locker room and stuff like that that say, ‘Rebound,’ so when he got that going everybody was buying in to what he’s talking about,” said Desi Sills, who added 15 points off the bench.
“I feel like that’s the reason we’re winning right now.”
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