Razorbacks Stall Early
The Razorbacks welcomed their second top 15 team to Bud Walton Arena in a six game span. The first time was a heartbreaking loss to the visiting Kentucky Wildcats in a home environment for the ages. Unfortunately, the Hogs would once again feel the heartbreak of losing to a ranked team after holding a lead late in the game. With 9:00 showing on the clock, the Hogs were hot off a run and held a 59-50 lead. They would continue to swap buckets for a while, even leading by as many as 11 at one point. However, as the clock got under five minutes left, the Hogs offense stalled. It seemed as though they wanted to run out the clock for the last five minutes. Clearly, this strategy did not pay off.
Little by little, Auburn climbed their way back into the game. Mason Jones went 1/2 from the FT line with 37 seconds left to leave the game tied at 69. With both teams botching their final possessions, we headed to overtime. Although the Hogs drew first blood in the extra period from the free throw line, Auburn would quickly take the lead and never look back. As has been the case all season, the Hogs never gave up. In fact, Mason Jones had the ball in hands with less than five seconds on the clock, Hogs down by three. His
As was expected, the Hogs were unable to hold their own on the glass against a much bigger Auburn team. For the 10th time this season, the Hogs were outrebounded by double digits. In fact, their 17 rebound margin of defeat was their third highest margin all season; they lost the two games with a higher margin of defeat as well.
Points off Turnovers
As strange as it sounds, the Hogs actually still have a winning record win being outrebounded by double digits (6-4). The key difference in those wins has usually been the turnover battle and, in turn, points off of turnovers. In the six games won by the Hogs when outrebounded by 10 or more, they averaged winning the turnover battle by 7.2. In their losses, they averaged winning it by only 4.7. That is, before the Auburn game. The Hogs were unable to mask their lack of size with turnovers today as they still managed to win the turnover battle by 8 turnovers.
Yet again, the Hogs struggled from the free throw line. Mason Jones was phenomenal from everywhere on the court, except the charity stripe. He shot only 68.8% on 16 attempts, significantly lower than his season average of 82%. Adrio Bailey went 0/2 on the game. Desi Sills shot 50% instead of his usual 66%. Had all of the Razorbacks who attempted a free throw shot at least their season average, three to four points would have been added to the score. I’m aware it’s hard to compare what-ifs, but it’s clear that free throw shooting could have made a huge difference in this game, as has been the case in several losses this season.
After another heartbreaking home loss, it’s easy to feel the pain and panic that come with losing. Especially when that feeling has become a staple in a lot of the major sports on campus. However, all things considered, the Hogs are sitting in amazing position under first-year head coach Eric Musselman. Here are some facts to calm the nerves.
Mason Jones has been the surprise of the conference, if not the country. He leads the SEC in scoring at 20.7 per game and he just became the first Razorback to ever go for 30 in three consecutive games. Jones also leads the Hogs in scoring, assists, rebounds, and steals per game, the only player in the SEC to lead his team in all of those categories.
The Hogs have had a painfully short rotation all season. Aside from Mason Jones, every player that Musselman puts on the court has had their inconsistencies. Joe and Whitt have been phenomenal at times and completely disappeared at others. This will be even more of a factor now with Joe injured for the foreseeable future. Desi Sills and Jalen Harris have struggled from deep, and Adrio Bailey and Reggie Chaney have had mental lapses more than once this year. However, despite all of the inconsistency and lack of roster depth, the Hogs have won 16 games this year. They have help on the way in multiple forms. The Razorbacks are a few wins away from locking a tournament berth in Musselman’s first season. It’s simply amazing when you step back and look at the big picture.
The Hogs have the highest rated recruiting class in recent memory. With all four recruits landing well inside ESPN’s top 100, the fans have high expectations for next season. While they will still be freshman and make freshman mistakes, the wholes they fill around any returning players could make a world of difference. More importantly still, is the amount of size the Hogs have coming next season. California transfer Conner Vanover was denied when submitting his appeal to be eligible immediately this season. At a staggering 7’3, his presence on the glass could have easily been the difference in several games this season, and hopefully will be next season. Connor Vanover’s freakish stature paired with incoming 6’10 freshman Jaylin Williams and returning 6’9 junior forward Reggie Chaney could quickly erase the rebounding struggles the Hogs have faced this season.
Razorbacks Road Ahead
The Hogs are down to just nine games left on their regular season schedule, and the road ahead is not much easier than it’s been thus far. Up next, the Hogs take a road trip to Missouri (10-12, 2-7) and Tennessee (13-9, 5-4). Going 2-0 on the road against two middle-of-the-pack SEC teams would go a long ways for the Hogs’ tournament hopes. Then the Hogs head back to The Hill for the first rematch of the season as Mississippi State comes to town. This is arguably the Hogs worst SEC matchup as Reggie Perry destroyed our big men on both ends of the court last time we played. Going up against the dominant big for a second time will likely be a huge test for Musselman’s ability to adjust to the hand he’s been dealt.
@ Missouri – 10-12 (2-7)
@ Tennessee – 13-9 (5-4)
Mississippi State – 14-8 (5-4)
@ Florida – 13-8 (5-3)
Missouri – 10-12 (2-7)
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