El Dorado News-Times
Razorbacks squander lead in loss to Aggies
FAYETTEVILLE — Road losses for the University of Arkansas basketball team this season have a common theme.
The Razorbacks can’t hold a lead in the second half.
It happened again on Wednesday night when Texas A&M rallied to beat Arkansas 62-56 at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, after the Razorbacks were ahead 33-24 at halftime.
It was the fifth time in six Arkansas road losses in which the Razorbacks (17-9, 6-7 SEC) led by as many as six points in the second half.
“The other team goes on runs and we’re not very good right now at stopping the runs and stopping the bleeding,” said Arkansas freshman point guard Anthony Black, who had 9 points, 8 assists and 3 rebounds at Texas A&M. “I take responsibility in some of that as the game manager.
“I’ve got to find a way to bring us together and stop the bleeding. … We just have to do a better job of managing the lead.”
The trend started when LSU beat Arkansas 60-57 in the SEC opener at the Maravich Assembly Center on Dec. 28. LSU overcame a 40-34 lead by the Razorbacks with 10:21 left.
Vanderbilt used a 62-point second half for a 97-84 victory over the Razorbacks at Memorial Gymnasium after Arkansas led 50-40 with 17:37 left.
T h e Razorbacks blew another 10-point lead at Mizzou Arena when Missouri won 79-76 after Arkansas went ahead 67-57 with 5:07 left.
Baylor beat the Razorbacks 67-64 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at the Farrell Center after the Razorbacks led 35-27 with 19:33 left.
Even when Arkansas finally won its first road game, 65-63 at South Carolina on Feb. 4, the Razorbacks needed baskets by Ricky Council and
Black in the final 2:11 after the Gamecocks erased a 43-30 deficit early in the second half and took a 63-62 lead.
“This team has struggled unlike any group that I've had since I've been coaching college,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman, who is in his eighth season as a college head coach, said of the Razorbacks' inability to make winning plays late in road games. “I mean, I don't know how to explain it. We have not played good.”
The Aggies' comeback started on the final possession of the first half after Arkansas took a 33-21 lead on two free throws by Black.
Just 1.4 seconds remained in the half when Texas A&M inbounded the ball, but that was enough time for Hayden Hefner to catch a pass at the top of the key and hit a three-pointer at the buzzer after getting free with a screen.
“It was a big shot,” Black said. “You never want to give up a three like that right before half. There's a big difference between [leading by] 12 and 9.
“We came out [for the second half] where we left off. Just giving up threes and not defending well. So that kind of gave them a spark.”
Texas A&M hit 4 of 5 three-pointers in the second half — including two by Wade Taylor and one by Dexter Dennis in the first 2:57 — and finished 6 of 10.
“Shoutout to Hayden Hefner,” said Taylor, who scored 18 points. “He hit that big shot going into halftime. It was really the momentum swinger.
“I told him that he really kept us in it with that. We weren't hitting shots too much in the first half. Him hitting that shot showed us we're still good.”
The Razorbacks shot 5 of 16 on three-pointers, including 1 of 10 in the second half. They were 0 of 6 from beyond the arc in the final 4:56 — with Davonte Davis having four misses and Council two — when Texas A&M closed on an 11-3 run.
Arkansas hit its last nine shots of the first half to finish at 52.0% (13 of 25), but shot 36.0% (9 of 25) in the second half when the Aggies went with a zone defense after playing man-to-man in the first half.
Going into Wednesday night's matchup, Texas A&M had used its zone for 26 possessions on the season, Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said on the Aggies' postgame radio show according to the Bryan Eagle.
“It messed them up a little bit,” Taylor said of the Razorbacks trying to score against the zone.
When Arkansas won 88-73 at Kentucky last week, the Razorbacks were 4 of 9 on three-pointers, but scored 46 points in the paint, 23 off turnovers and hit 20 of 24 free throws.
In losing to Mississippi State 70-64 last Saturday in Walton Arena combined with the loss at Texas A&M, Arkansas hit 9 of 34 three-pointers while the Bulldogs and Aggies hit 12 of 22.
“It's our kryptonite every night,” Musselman said on Arkansas' postgame radio show Wednesday night of the Razorbacks being beaten at the threepoint line. “If you don't defend the three and then you shoot a low percentage, it's going to be really hard to win.
“It's frustrating to be in a position and then just not be able to close out close games. Very uncharacteristic of teams that we've had. So we've got to continue to try to work on late-game situations.”
The Razorbacks outscored the Aggies 30-24 on points in the paint, but needed a bigger margin with Texas A&M hitting 18 of 22 free throws to Arkansas' 7 of 14 in addition to the three-point problems.
“Paint points are what we live on,” Musselman said. “Free throws attempted are what we live on. So that was an issue.
“Sharing the ball was not an issue. We had 17 assists to their nine.
“It's frustrating. I thought we had a really good game plan. I thought we followed it perfectly in the first half.
“Game gets close and we've got to be able to counter when another team makes a run.”