For the second straight year, LSU beat Arkansas in a heartbreaker, but this game didn't feel quite like last year.
In Bud Walton last March, LSU led for most of the game behind Jarrell Martin's fantastic 40-minute performance. This time, the two teams led for close to the same amount of time, but it was hard, at least for me, to feel that Arkansas wasn't playing the better game.
I'm not totally sure why I feel that way. Possibly because Arkansas actually made three more field goals than LSU and took eight more shots. The Hogs made more shots, more threes, won the rebounding battle, and doubled LSU up in bench points. The difference was that LSU was able to get to the free throw line nearly three times more than Arkansas did, taking 31 freebies to the Hogs' 11. Fortunately for Arkansas, the Tigers only made 17 of them, far below their average, otherwise the Tigers probably would have won easily.
It's easy to be critical of the officiating when there's such a discrepancy in free throws and fouls (24 called on Arkansas, 13 on LSU). And there were certainly questionable calls on both sides, but it doesn't hide the fact that Arkansas has been putting opponents on the free throw line at a really terrible rate all year. In the "free throw rate" stat, which measures how many of an opponent's shots are free throws compared to field goals, Arkansas ranks 285th in the country. The Hogs commit a lot of fouls, and it's not limited to just one night of officiating. It's a problem.
Some of the fouls Arkansas committed were just bad fouls, none probably worse than Beard's foul on a fast break that gave LSU an easy and-1. Unfortunately, the Tigers missed the free throw, but Ben Simmons got the offensive rebound and putback plus another foul, and he made his free throw. What should have been a basic layup turned into a five-point possession for LSU when the game had been tied with about three minutes to go.
But Arkansas was still in it. Beard hit a layup and drew a foul on Simmons with a little over 30 seconds left, but missed the free throw that would have given Arkansas a one-point lead. Simmons knocked the rebound out of bounds, giving Arkansas a shot at winding down the clock and getting the last good shot to win or force overtime, but the inbounds pass was knocked out of Anthlon Bell's hands in the corner, giving that possession to LSU, who won on the offensive rebound putback.
Most frustratingly for Arkansas, the Hogs are now 1-4 in games that have come down to one possession or overtime. Hopefully, they've proven their mettle at this point. This is a pretty solid team. But they're running out of opportunities to win some serious resume-building wins. Even more unfortunately, LSU's terrible non-conference performance means the magic RPI machine doesn't see LSU as a really quality opponent.
But the season is just barely halfway over and still plenty of conference games left. It'll be fun to watch this season play out.
None of the Razorbacks had a singularly great performance, but everybody who played, scored. Anthlon Bell came closest with 19 points. Moses Kingsley and Anton Beard each had 11. Jabril Durham had seven points but just three assists, less than half his average. LSU did a good job of making Arkansas work in the half court.
Arkansas played hard and played well, and have a few days to recover before taking on Kentucky Thursday night in Fayetteville. With the effort the Razorbacks have been giving the last few weeks, let's hope they're rewarded with a big time crowd in Bud Walton. They deserve it.