Ever since the basketball schedule was announced, it was expected that SMU would give the Razorbacks their toughest non conference opponent at home, but for most of the game it hardly looked that way.
The Hogs led the whole way and built up a 24-point lead midway into the second half, but the Mustangs rallied all the way to cut the lead to just six with a little over two minutes left. SMU took possession after forcing a Kikko Haydar turnover, but Arkansas gave the most intense defensive performance of the night on the Mustangs' ensuing possession, leading to a Mardracus Wade steal. He passed the ball to Michael Qualls at midcourt, who pitched it to Coty Clarke down the sideline, and Clarke lobbed it to Alandise Harris for an alley-oop that proved to be the winning basket.
After that, Qualls got a big offensive rebound and layup after a missed free throw, and the Hogs were able to make most of their free throws to hold on and now they can start planning for Maui next week.
The story of the first half was that Arkansas won in a completely different way than they won the previous game against Louisiana. The team shot 14 threes before halftime and made 8, while they just went 2-13 in the entire game against the Cajuns. It's the sign of a good team that can win games in different ways, and also good that Arkansas was able to identify that they were shooting well and took advantage of it in the first half.
Arkansas will be hard to beat when they're knocking down shots, and they were shooting a net-blistering 57.1% from three in the first half.
The Razorbacks came back to reality in the second half, going 3-for-8, but the new foul rules made an appearance and the Hogs took 25 free throws in the period, making 20. That made up for shooting just 37% from the field in the last 20 minutes. Harris made all 11 of his free throws as he led the team in scoring with 21 points.
Harris is quickly developing a reputation of being able to get points Arkansas needs, when the team needs them. His first half performance last week against UL kept the team in the game, and his alley-oop and earlier three-point play to end a lengthy span without a field goal were huge for the team. Asked after the game if he's becoming a go-to player on the team, Anderson responded without hesitation, "Oh there's no question about it."
But another theme emerging is the Hogs ability to lose intensity when they've got a lead, or as they say, "go stagnant." The team did this on occasion in the previous games, but SMU was good enough to mount a comeback with the help of offensive rebounds and stickbacks and a quick flurry of three-pointers. Anderson noted afterward, "We want to be a team that's going to be good in the second half." It's something to keep an eye on going forward.
But other than SMU's big second half run, it was a very solid outing for the Hogs. Only Bobby Portis ended the game with a negative +/- and it was just -2. After Harris, Qualls finished with 17 points, six rebounds and three blocks, Anthlon Bell had 11 thanks to his three first-half threes. Coty Clarke only had six points but led the team with eight rebounds. The Hogs had 17 assists on 25 field goals, grabbed nine steals, all stats that Anderson likes to see.
It's true that SMU's star freshman Keith Frazier was unable to play due to an ankle sprain, but don't take anything away from how well Arkansas played tonight. And even if/when Frazier comes back, if SMU has a good year, that will still mean good things for Arkansas' strength of schedule, and they'll need every ounce of strength from it they can get.
Speaking of which, the Razorbacks won't play again until their big trip to Maui next week, where they'll tip off against California in the opening round on Monday.