When you turn the ball over 18 times on the road against a good team you are likely to get run out of the gym, and that's what happened tonight. Give a lot of credit to Arkansas for that; they were coming off an embarrassing defensive performance against Oklahoma State and that was a point of emphasis for them in this game.
Full disclosure, I did not watch all of this game. I was late leaving work and stopped at a local establishment on my way home, and by the time I got the game on I had missed the first 4 minutes and we had a one point lead. (Maybe I was the problem tonight?) The fact that the game wasn't already on and I was the only person in the bar watching it, in BIRMINGHAM, is another issue, but I know Coach Johnson is doing everything he can to change that. Also, I left at the 8 minute media timeout when we were down by 24 and watched the last couple of minutes of garbage time at home.
I was worried about this matchup. Much like auburn, they have several legitimate scoring threats so it's hard to focus on one or two guys. Also, we've struggled against pressing and trapping teams. Given what Texas did to us in the second half with the press, and Florida with the halfcourt trap, I'm really surprised we haven't seen more of it.
The trend of getting an early lead but not fully taking advantage of our opponents' mistakes continued. The first 6 minutes or so of the game we forced them to run half court sets and they had a few turnovers and took some bad shots, but we missed some open looks only had a 4 point lead. Then we started coughing up the basketball. At one point we turned it over 4 possessions in a row and something like 6 out of 7. We went 7 minutes without scoring from the field, and Arkansas took a commanding lead that they would never relinquish. Nevertheless, we went into the half fortunate to only trail by 8.
Unfortunately, we didn't protect the ball any better in the second half, continued to miss open jump shots, and the defense disappeared in the second half. With a few obvious exceptions, I actually thought our guys made pretty good decisions with the basketball against the press. The problem is they weren't strong with the ball on the dribble, and their passes were wildly inaccurate. It seemed most of our turnovers were in the front court after we beat the press. The pressure speeds things up, and I think our guys just aren't comfortable or capable of executing at that quicker pace.
I was a little disappointed in our defensive effort. It seemed like once their lead got to 15 or so, we were less aggressive defensively and did not close out on their shooters. Freaking Dusty Hannahs of all people went 5 of 6 from 3 point range against us. I really don't like that guy.
Dazon was 5 of 7 from the field but had 3 turnovers, and it seemed like more. Again, credit to Arkansas for their effective defense. Every time we tried the high ball screen with Donta or Taylor, they were all over our ball handler with the trap and we seemed totally unprepared for it. Key scored 12 but also turned it over 4 times. Davis scored 10 points but mostly from the free throw line after the game was already decided. Bola had another solid performance with 9 rebounds. It seems to be feast of famine with Corban. He was awesome at UGA and LSU, but was frankly terrible tonight, 2 points and 3 turnovers in 23 minutes, and was way off on his three 3 point attempts. The highlight of the game for me was Jimmie taking the ball from beyond the free throw line, putting it on the floor and driving right at Moses Kingsley, drawing the foul, AND making both free throws. Wherever that came from, we need more of it.
On the positive side, our RPI actually improved with the loss, as they were a top 30 team playing at home. Also, we were 20 of 25 from the free throw line, so hopefully the $tate game wasn't an anomaly but instead a turning point in that area. As I write this, I'm flipping back and forth between the Kansas/Baylor and Bulls/Thunder games. While we are all disappointed in the performance tonight, be happy that we have a coach that is leading this program in the direction of the likes of Baylor and Kansas, and we have a group of guys that generally like each other, play hard, and play well together. It's a stark contrast to my beloved but beleaguered Bulls who have a coach clearly in over his head and a team full of entitled crybabies waging war with another in the news and on social media. They are actually winning on the road at halftime, but I have little doubt the fourth quarter collapse is coming.
I've read a few comments here and elsewhere about the officiating. There were a handful of calls where I found myself yelling at the TV wanting a foul on Arkansas, but the officials aren't the deciding factor when you lose by 19 points. Pressing teams are going to get away with a few more obvious calls, because the officials are more spread out. We lost this game for a number of reasons, but not being strong with the basketball through the contact was a much bigger issue than any inconsistencies in the officiating.
Up next, the rematch with auburn. Some would say this is a rivalry, but we lead the all time series by over 30 games. Nevertheless, they beat the crap out of us last time but have played like garbage against everyone else. They are a young but extremely talented team, and contrary to popular opinion their convincing win over us wasn't merely the result of a motivated team playing above their heads at home against their in-state rival; they present some serious match up problems for us. The game is a sell out, and hopefully the football fans there for the trophy presentation will stick around for the second half and help our guys pull out a badly needed win. Tip off is set for 7:30 pm on the SEC network.