FAYETTEVILLE - After Arkansas attempted but 12 free throws and victorious Mississippi State attempted 40, the consensus seems heavy that the Razorbacks were too perimeter oriented in their 78-75 SEC loss Tuesday night in Starkville, Miss.
Actually, the Bulldogs launched more threes, hitting only of 4 of 21 though State’s Quinndary Weatherspoon hit two critical deep ones down the stretch, than Arkansas’ 6 of 15.
“I thought we attacked the basket and there were some calls they didn’t make,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said during his Thursday press conference at Walton Arena. “We didn’t get to the free throw line. I thought we were aggressive from that standpoint.”
Nevertheless, Anderson acknowledges his Razorbacks must play with a more determined inside emphasis that makes officials make those calls when 22nd-ranked Arkansas, 11-3, 1-1 in the SEC, visits the Auburn Tigers, 13-1, 1-0, in Saturday’s 5 p.m. ESPNU televised SEC game at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.
“We have got to be able to attack,” Anderson said. “I know that. We’ve got to be able to attack the basket and take advantage of our size advantage. I thought the last time we played Auburn (defeating Auburn, 79-68 last season at Auburn) I thought we did a really good job of really spacing the floor and getting good ball movement and posting up and making great cuts to the basket. We’ve got to put pressure on their defense and make them play defense.”
And they sure can’t afford Saturday at Auburn again for a foul discrepancy like the 26 they were just charged with compared to Mississippi State’s 11 last Tuesday in Starkville.
Although Arkansas actually matched Mississippi State rebound for rebound, 39-39, much of the Razorbacks’ frequent fouling came during the Bulldogs’ 17 offensive rebounds, Anderson said.
“Obviously we have to stop fouling as much,” Anderson said. “I think a lot of your fouls come from offensive rebounds, when they get it and you foul them going back up. That’s why it’s going to be imperative that we do a good job on the glass against Auburn. That’s how you fix that. You limit them to one shot. And then on the defensive side, you have to keep people in front of you and make them take tough shots.”
And shoot free throws better than they have so far in their two SEC games, 21 of 33 in last Saturday’s 95-93 overtime victory over Tennessee at Walton, and disastrous 5 for 12 against Mississippi State.
“We are one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the league in the two games of conference play,” Anderson said. “But I think that will change. I think we are a much better free throw shooting team. Whether home or on the road we’ve got to be able to get to the line. We’ve got to get our kids in there and make people foul them.”
Although 2-1 in their neutral court games beating Oklahoma and UConn and losing to North Carolina over the Thanksgiving holidays in Portland, Ore., the Razorbacks are 0-2 in true road games, the 91-65 loss on Dec. 2 to the Houston Cougars in Houston, and the 78-75 game Tuesday at Mississippi State.
Arkansas’ play, even with the frequent fouling in Starkville, was as different for those two games the margins of those final scores in Anderson’s view.
“We played a whole lot better,” Anderson said comparing the Mississippi State loss to the Houston loss. “A whole lot better. Just a couple of plays. If you look at the free throw line, there was a big discrepancy there, 40 to 12, and we lose by three. Take away some of those offensive rebounds that they got and they scored, make some free throws, get a couple more stops, then it reverses. We were plays away. The Houston game is one of those games you just burn the tape up.”
After Mississippi State controlled first half tempo to lead 32-28 at intermission, Arkansas took control of the second half tempo to be up eight before overcome by the free throw disparities and Mississippi State’s Weatherspoon brothers, Quinndary and Nick scoring 22 points each and the game-leading nine rebounds by Mississippi State big ma Abdul Ado.
“I thought in the second half, we played the way we’re capable of playing,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day, Mississippi State made a couple more free throws than we did. They sure got to shoot a lot more than we did, but they made a couple more.”