Associated Press

Attacking The Rim: Brokenhearted In Brooklyn

Arkansas (2-3) grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory over Thanksgiving in Brooklyn, but must get over that quickly with games against visiting Northwestern State on Tuesday and at Wake Forest on Saturday.

BROOKLYN – As Arkansas coaches and players trudged out of the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott hotel on Friday night to catch a flight home, there were a lot of sad faces.

That was to be expected after an epic collapse that saw the Razorbacks (2-3) outscored 21-1 by Stanford in the final eight minutes of Friday afternoon’s 69-66 loss to the Cardinal.

It was a team that rode Anthlon Bell’s hot early shooting to a 31-11 lead in the first half and still led 65-48 with 6:38 left before just completely falling over. 

“The game is 40 minutes long, not 20 minutes and we always make a point to our guys to understand that,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said in the Barclays Center press room minutes after the loss. 

“I guess you could say let’s credit their defense, but I don’t know as it was so much their defense as our inability to attack their zone and finish off shots. We missed a lot of lay ups.”

Arkansas headed home with losses to Georgia Tech (83-73) and Stanford – two teams that were slight favorites over the Razorbacks per Las Vegas – instead of feeling much better about a split.

“It was very disappointing that we didn’t come out with a win, but as I always say that the sun will come up tomorrow and we’ll get an opportunity to go out and get better,” Anderson said.

That’s what coaches should say and it was true as there was sun Saturday in Brooklyn, but it certainly didn’t help the frustration of the Razorback fan base.

After the football team botched a potential game-winning field goal against Mississippi State last week, Razorback fans had to watch this and reacted with disappointment and anger. 

Now some fans went over the top, but I get the frustration. 

To have hopes that a basketball team which had a chance to be a top 10 nationally if the band had gotten back together, Arkansas fans are certainly looking at a season that could be extremely frustrating after an off-season implosion.

Fans will look back at what could have been after each loss and react accordingly and its tough to look ahead to next season, when the cupboard should be stocked with the four early signees and more in the spring. 

Arkansas – which lost all five starters from a year ago and eight players overall at this point – clearly puckered up in the final seven minutes on Friday.

There’s no if, ands and buts about it.

A team that was playing well in building its big lead simply played scared in that last segment of the contest.

“I thought we started playing not to lose and that is what happens when you play not to lose,” Anderson said. 

“You don’t have two of your key guys out there (Bell and junior center Moses Kingsley)…but that falls on these other guys. They have played the game before and they have to play on through.” 

For as much as the epic collapse and losing two games in two days is the bottom line, there were a few positives to take away from Brooklyn.

Moses Kingsley continues to show vast improvement in his game although he clearly needs to foul less and be on the floor more.

Kingsley is averaging a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.2 rebounds in the first five games.

The 6-10 junior center is shooting 57.8 percent from field and has gotten to the free throw line a team-high 39 times while shooting 69.2 percent from the charity stripe. 

But his fouling – a team-high 19 fouls and already being disqualified twice – has got to be turned around. 

That’s especially with sophomore Trey Thompson hurt and Willy Kouassi limited in what he can do offensively as the only other two bigs. 

Arkansas is also getting good work from both Bell and Hannahs, who had hit 34 straight free throws before missing one on Friday.

Hannahs leads the team with a 17.4 point average and has hit 14-of-27 3-pointers (51.9 percent) and 21-of-22 free throws so far.

That’s even with a rough 3-of-14 overall outing against Stanford when over half of those misses rimmed in and out.

Bell has hit 18-of-41 (43.9 percent) of his 3-pointers and is averaging 16 points a game.

The player who is likely to make the biggest jump from the start to the end of this season is 6-4 freshman guard Jimmy Whitt, who is averaging 11.4 points per game and appears to be adjusting to the college game.

“I think Jimmy continues to get better in understanding the game and just to show you the confidence I have in him, he was the guy who I wanted the ball in his hands going down the stretch to make a play,” Anderson said. “I think he is capable of it and as he learns and gets a little stronger, he will be able to do those things for us."

Jabril Durham has become a good floor general while averaging nearly eight assists a game, but shooting 25.9 percent from the field and 10 percent from 3-point range has certainly got to get better.

It will help when sophomore point guard Anton Beard returns on Dec. 18, but his teammates have to get better between now and then.

Arkansas, averaging 79.1 points per game, is hitting 43.6 percent of its field goal attempts, 41.8 percent of its 3-pointers and 71.8 percent of its free throws. 

Defensively, the Razorbacks are allowing 76.6 points per game with opponents shooting 43.9 percent from the floor, 41.4 percent from 3-point range and 66.7 percent from the 3-point line. 

Regardless of the reasons this team arrived at this point, one clear thing is there is not much margin for error when it comes to winning games.

The current Razorbacks, very few of whom had significant roles last season, are going to have to learn to win as a group.

Best to accept the fact that this team is going to be limited in what it can do and not lose it mentally after each game. 

It appears they are exactly what we thought they would be. 

There’s no time to sit around and bemoan the lost Thanksgiving weekend in Brooklyn as it is right back to action against Northwestern State Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena.

Likely NCAA Tournament teams Wake Forest and Dayton await in December as well as do Evansville, Tennessee Tech, Mercer and North Florida.

“This team has got a chance, but they have experienced a couple of tough losses, but I think it will benefit us in the long run,” Anderson said. “…We have to build on this and get better because we have lot of tough ball games on our schedule.”

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