Razorbacks Can't Overcome Pressure

COLUMBIA, Mo. — They tapped the ball away from Arkansas' guards. They slapped it out of the hands of Arkansas' forwards. They induced wild passes from all of Arkansas' players. They put looks of disgust and frustration on Arkansas coach Stan Heath's face.

And this was all before halftime. The statement made by the Missouri Tigers' defense in the first half was immediate and intended. "In the beginning, we came out and gave them a gut-check," Missouri sophomore Matt Lawrence said. "After that, we were in their heads." The Razorbacks never recovered from the first-half onslaught of pressure. Missouri handed Arkansas its first loss of the season Thursday night with an 86-64 victory, and it's that first number that especially upset, even embarrassed, the Hogs. During a five-game unbeaten stretch, the Hogs prided themselves on defense. But in losing its first game of the season, Arkansas (5-1) exhibited little fight during a first half marred by turnovers and lax defense, folding to the pressure in their first true road test. "I don't know where to start," Heath said. "We got outworked. We got outhustled. I think our team left Orlando (after winning the Old Spice Classic) and felt like we had arrived." Career-high scoring nights by Missouri's Stefhon Hannah (21 points) and Lawrence (19) helped Missouri (8-0) build its first-half advantage. But most of Arkansas' first-half miscues, including the tendency to leave Hannah and Lawrence wide-open for jump shots, were self-inflicted. Ultimately, the Hogs lost for the first time this season because they never got out of their own way in the first half. The Razorbacks didn't shy away from the "40 Minutes of Hell" employed by Anderson — the frantic, pressing style that used to make its home in Fayetteville under Nolan Richardson with Anderson by his side. Maybe they should have. An Arkansas team that already had turnover issues — the Hogs had 15 in the first half against Southern Illinois — struggled with Missouri's hounding defense. The Hogs committed turnovers all over the place. In the backcourt. In the frontcourt. Under the Missouri basket. Everywhere. "They pressured us hard, and as a team we made silly turnovers," Arkansas guard Patrick Beverley said. In the opening first 20 minutes, as Beverley alluded, Arkansas made the ball look as slick as the roads outside Mizzou Arena. Missouri forced 13 turnovers in the first 13 minutes of the half and held Arkansas scoreless for the half's final 5 minutes, 23 seconds. Rotating a variety of defenses, Missouri flustered the Hogs. Gary Ervin had five of Arkansas' 18 first-half turnovers, carelessly dribbling the ball and recklessly passing it. Charles Thomas had four, barreling into a Missouri defender for a charge and throwing away three passes. Sonny Weems had three, Beverley had two and Vincent Hunter even struggled with merely holding onto the ball. "It's hard to explain," Beverley said. "We knew what was coming." And, early on, the Razorbacks handled the intensity. They led 15-14 with 11 minutes, 28 seconds left after six early points by Thomas. Then, moments before Missouri would take the lead for good, the arena's public address announcer invited the sparse crowd of 5,428 to move up and fill seats closer to the court. The Tigers immediately had those fans screaming, igniting seven loud roars with an 18-7 spurt. Keon Lawrence nailed two 3-pointers during the run and ended the half with a driving layup as time expired. The Hogs misfired on their last seven shots of the half, trailed 44-28 and only 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting from Beverley kept them in the game. Arkansas could only cut the deficit down to 11 points. The Hogs had hoped to make the last few moments of the game interesting, and they were. But not because of anything they did. The Mizzou Arena crowd burst into cheers when walk-on Michael Anderson connected on the last of his three free-throw attempts after missing the first two with 48 seconds left.

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