Coach John Pelphrey was right, success is evil, especially to these young Hogs. After riding incredibly high for the past two weeks on a 10-game winning streak and two wins over top 10 teams, our confidence was dealt a staggering blow last night. The Razorbacks had a four point lead with 16 minutes to go, but the Bulldogs from Mississippi State would counter with a 13-0 run and eventually wind up winning the game 70-56.
That’s not quite how we all envisioned the Hogs opening up in the SEC. In fact, dare I say that when it comes to basketball, the Razorback Nation is more giddy than I’ve seen them in a long time. The buzz is fantastic. Rather, it was until last night. But I implore the faithful, one game a season doesn’t make (ask North Carolina, who lost at home to Boston College last week).
So the game didn’t go quite as well as we had hoped. That’s going to happen when you shoot a little above 35% from the floor, at HOME. That’s going to happen when the opposing team shoots almost 45% from the floor. That’s definitely going to happen when you only make 13% of your three-pointers compared to their 40% (3-22 vs. 11-27, respectively).
It might be fair to say that Arkansas had a poor shooting night. Err, should I say that Stefan Welsh and Courtney Fortson had poor shooting nights. Those two went a combined 6-29 from the floor (0-13 from three), 1-5 from the charity stripe, and had 7 total assists compared to 6 turnovers. It just wasn’t their night.
But right there, keeping us in it were Michael Washington and Rotnei Clarke. Mike Wash answered critics, AGAIN, by hitting the Bulldogs and Jarvis Vornado up with a double-double — 18 points, 15 boards (eight of which were offensive). Clarke had another off-night in three-point land, but ended up with 14 points (aka, the only other Hog to score in double figures). When we only have two Razorbacks scoring like that, we’re going to lose more than we win. This team is incredibly balanced, or has been thus far.
What happened out there? Well, the Bulldogs figured out Fortson and stopped our fast breaks — we finished with ZERO fast break points. Does that sound normal? We had good looks from the field, but just weren’t knocking things down. When you are shooting badly in a game, the easiest way to get your shot back on track is to drive to the basket and draw a foul. The free throw shooting is supposed to be great way to get your shot flowing again. This game we took a total of 15 free throws (side note: we only made seven of them, sick). That doesn’t scream aggressive play. And honestly, we only have one pure shooter (Clarke), if his shot is off, he’s really the only one that should keep shooting it to find his touch again. Streaky shooters like Fortson and Welsh will have off nights and it’s those nights that the ball would be better played in others’ hands.
Arkansas has greatly overachieved this season. When you look at a team that has NO returning starters from a season ago (and three of the current ones being freshmen), there are bound to be games like this. We’re done with the easy part of the schedule gang. It’s conference time and there are no more cupcakes. The Razorbacks are primarily a young team (in experience AND age). There WILL be more games like this and the Hogs will need to find other ways to win when their shots aren’t falling. They’ll get back on track, Pel will make sure of that. Let’s take our lumps early.
Player of the game: Mike Wash, hands down. Opening up his SEC play with another double-double is awesome. He continues to silence critics about not being a traditional big man. Which is fine with us considering he had Arkansas’ only made three-pointer in the first half. He’s going to need some more help down low, though, as the post play is going to become more difficult in the coming weeks.
Step up player of the game: I guess that would be Clarke. Though he did as he usually does.
Concern of the game: Free throws could be up there. But I’m going to go with a combination of poor shooting and streaky defense. While there will be off nights on shooting, the Hogs’ defense has been allowing plenty of runs lately. 13-0 to Miss. St., 15-0 to North Texas and 16-0 to Oklahoma. All at home. Yes, basketball is all about who’ll out run the other, but that’s discomforting.