Arkansas for years has been the program famously known for ’40 minutes of hell,’ a name that current coach Mike Anderson chose to modify to ’40 fastest minutes.’
But for 20 of those 40 of hell of fastest or whatever on Saturday night, the Razorbacks found themselves trying to climb out of the heat against a revitalized LSU team desperately trying to end a 10-game losing streak.
Reality settled in for both teams after halftime, though, and the promise the Tigers generated in a nice opening half became their own 20 minutes of ‘what the _____’ (fill in the blank however you please).
A lead that swelled to 14 tantalizing points right before the last TV timeout of the first half faded slowly at first and then evaporated in a flurry of 3-pointers in the opening stages of the second as the Razorbacks barreled to their own double-digit lead before staving off a late LSU comeback for a 78-70 triumph.
The Tigers have lost 11 games in a row, their longest skid since the 2011-12 team dropped its first 12 games of the conference season. All of them sting; maybe none as much as Saturday’s, though, because it seemed like such an obtainable positive outcome.
Instead, solid defense disappeared. Arkansas’ zone defense suffocated the Tigers’ previously clicking offense. That cushy lead transformed into desperate offensive possessions and LSU simply couldn’t stop the bleeding either in time or nearly enough.
Antonio Blakeney led the Tigers (9-15, 1-11 SEC) with 21 points and contributed a career-best 12 rebounds to LSU’s mammoth but squandered 50-rebound effort, Duop Reath chimed in with another double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds) and Brandon Sampson added 11 gritty points
But the 3-point line and how each team adjusted there was a tell-tale sign of how the game changed so dramatically.
Arkansas (18-7, 7-5) knocked down only 3-of-9 from outside the arc in the first 20 minutes and sharpshooter Dusty Hannahs missed both attempts he hoisted. After the break – especially in the initial 7:01 – the Hogs blistered the nets, hitting six bombs to obliterate the once imposing deficit and bolt to a 53-46 advantage.
Hannahs buried four of those, two in the first five offensive trips of the half when Arkansas blasted LSU with a 9-2 run and two more sandwiched around his transition layup that staked the Hogs to a 47-46 lead they never relinquished.
It wasn’t just outside shooting that turned the tide. Arkansas found success everywhere and connected at a 53.8% clip (14-for-26) in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Razorback zone, which they used almost exclusively as they seized command, was an unsolvable puzzle for LSU.
For 8 minutes, the Tigers couldn’t identify or exploit in the 3-2 setup. They missed 8-of-11 shots – the only exceptions were a Sampson mid-range jumper that appeared to be there often and two aggressive Blakeney drives. Worse yet, LSU coughed the ball up on seven of its initial 15 possessions of the second half, six of those before ever getting a shot off.
When Hogs’ big man Moses Kinglsey swished two free throws at the 12-minute juncture, Arkansas was ahead 57-46, a mystifying 25-point turnaround in the matter of 12:13.
As has been the norm lately, the Tigers didn’t completely fold. Blakeney sparked a 9-4 burst and a late 6-0 lunge triggered by a Jalyn Patterson 3 got LSU within 76-70 with 1:07 to go.
Sampson had a pretty look on an open 3 with 33 seconds to go that spun halfway down but then out that would’ve closed the gap to three points. Kinglsey snared the rebound and that was the final dagger. Or the latest dagger. It’s hard to tell.
What stung more this time was that those daggers came after the Tigers had slung several in the first half that found their targets.
After several minutes of back-and-forth, LSU grabbed control when Reath connected on a jump-hook and an alley-oop slam-dunk and Blakeney took a feed from Skylar Mays for a vicious fast-break hammer dunk to cap an 8-0 run for a 25-16 advantage.
The Razorbacks held steady for several possessions before Reath scored on a press-break dunk, Blakeney hit a free throw and a trey and then two more foul shots – all while the Hogs hit a skid when they missed five shots and Brian Bridgewater came up with a steal.
That 7-0 answer expanded the lead to 33-19 and LSU was dominating in myriad ways, especially on the glass (25-10).
A lot was going right. And then it turned wrong.
Much like a Tigers’ season that long ago circled the drain.
LSU tries again to snap the streak on Tuesday when it plays at Ole Miss at 8 p.m.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- Blakeney and Reath each launched 16 floor shots and combined to make 15. The rest of the Tigers were 11-for-35 (31.4%).
- Patterson was the only Tiger who made more than one 3-pointer. He was 2-for-4, while Blakeney and Sampson each hit 1-of-4.
- LSU grabbed a season-best 50 rebounds and won the battle on the glass 50-30, its largest margin there of the year. That helped create a massive 21-5 edge in second-chance points and 40-20 in points in the paint.
- Kingsley won the battle of the blocked shot against Reath, 5-1.