This one was disappointing for a several reasons, but mainly because, final score notwithstanding, it was a game that easily could have been won.
One might be excused for chalking up the low first half score to "Eddie Sutton style defense". Except that that wsn't it at all. The Hogs had plenty of good looks in the first half and had about 6 shots that looked in but rimmed out.
And foul was the right word to describe the shooting from the line. Nor could you attribute OSU's low first half score to great Hog defense. The first half defense was not bad, I'll grant you, but numerous unforced turnovers limited OSU's shot opportunities.
In my opinion, the game turned around in the last 10 seconds of the first half. In spite of our terrible luck in shooting field goals and just terrible shooting from the line, in spite of the absence of Vincent Hunter, the Hogs' most effective post defender and scorer, and in spite of Eric Ferguson getting into early foul trouble and sitting out about the last ten minutes, the Hogs still were only 6 points down with the ball. They worked the clock down then took a good shot with about 5 seconds on the clock, an open look from the top of the key on a trey by Billy Pharis.
Guess what. Like so many others it rimmed out and John Lucas threw up a half-court prayer that banked in like it had eyes. So instead of being down three, this young team faced a 9-point deficit which in an Eddie Sutton game is kind of like being down 18 in most other games. I think that exchange took some of the heart out of them and they mostly played a little shell-shocked during the first 10 minutes of the second half.
When a team is a bit disheartened the first place it shows is in defensive intensity and during the first 10 minutes of the second half Arkansas gave up several transition scores that they had almost totally shut down in the first half and saw the deficit swell to I believe 20 points.
At that point The Hogs found their pride and Pookie Modica excited the crowd with a great one-man performance that cut the lead to I believe 8 with the ball and a chance to cut it further when Brewer was fouled on a nice cut to the basket and then missed both free throws.
OSU converted at the other end and instead of a 6-point deficit once again the lead was back to 11. From there on the Hogs had to foul and OSU hit about 70% of their free attempts and built the lead back up, remaining between 11 and 17 the rest of the game.
A second disappointing thing was that during Pookie's first half struggles nobody really stepped up to take up the slack. Brewer made a couple nice plays but didn't get much help. My biggest fear going into the conference season is that most SEC teams will have at least one stud defender. And with one man doing most of the scoring Arkansas is vulnerable to having its offense stifled by any team that can hold Modica well below his average.
Modica deserves great credit for his show of heart in the second half. After struggling through a 2-point first half with the Cowboys' defense set to deprive him of his favored drives to the basket Pookie apparently said to himself, "Okay, if nobody else is going o keep us in the game I will."
And he did that with 21 second half points in spite of OSU knowing where the ball was going and what Pookie was likely to do with it. Double and triple teaming him they still not only couldn't stop him. They couldn't even slow him down. Great show, Pookie.
About the only other bright spots for the Hogs was a nice effort from Rashard Sullivan who, though he didn' score, grabbed five boards, two steals, several blocks and no turnovers. Ronnie Brewer provided what little offense there was in the first half, but seemed bothered by the OSU pressure and was unable to find his groove insofar as involving his teammates.
The final disappointment is that this is a game the Hogs probably needed in their drive for an NCAA berth. There's still time to make it up, of course, but this is one that seemed to provide a good chance to make an impression on the selection committee in the event the hogs find themselves on the bubble.
Hunter, recovering from a separated shoulder, sat out tonight, but hopefully will be back for the Tulsa game on Dec. 30 at the latest.
It was interesting watching point guard recruit Dontell Jefferson enjoy the game. Not only was he clapping and keeping time with the Hog Wild Band, he actually seemed to be cheering for the Hogs during much of the game. Hopefully the pretty decent crowd both in numbers and enthusiasm made a good impression, though the emptying of the stands during the last four minutes was not exactly groovy.
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