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Arkansas Razorbacks 71, UT-Arlington 67: Raggedy Ride

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NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Arkansas Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

You know when Mike Anderson opens his postgame presser with the “a raggedy ride is better than a smooth walk” analogy, Arkansas just pulled out a tough victory, probably one that was tougher than expected. That’s exactly what happened.

Arkansas spotted Sun Belt favorite UT-Arlington 11 points to start the game, and the lead quickly ballooned to 16 points just seven minutes into the game, but the Razorbacks managed to pull out the come-from-behind victory in the second half thanks to a big run and several clutch plays.

The start of the game was disastrous for Arkansas. They only made three shots in the first seven minutes. There were turnovers, fouls, missed layups, and defensive lapses. The Mavericks were even shooting better than 50% from three for a while. UT-Arlington took an 11-point lead into halftime.

But in the second half, UT-Arlington came out ice cold and the Razorbacks took advantage. Arkansas also came out with great defensive energy and held the Mavericks to one field goal in the first 9:38 of the period. The Hogs were able to wipe out the deficit and take a seven-point lead of their own in that time. Jaylen Barford kicked the run into high gear, scoring seven consecutive points and the last basket was a steal that led to a fast break dunk and took the lead. Anton Beard added a pair of threes before the Mavericks called timeout and regained their composure.

UT-Arlington returned to form over the last 10 minutes, but never did better than tying the game. Arkansas made 9 free throws over the last four minutes of the game, including an And-1 by Manny Watkins off a steal and fast break layup (which proved to payoff Mike Anderson’s offense/defense sub of Watkins for Dusty Hannahs) and Anton Beard hit a clutch fadeaway jumper in the final minute to hold off the Mavericks.

This was Barford’s first big game as a Razorback. He led the team with 17 points 3 steals and tied for the team lead with 6 rebounds. He did turn the ball over 6 times, which he’ll need to improve on, but it was good to see him live up to some of the hype he came into Fayetteville with. Beard finished with 12 points.

Part of the reason the game was a struggle is that Moses Kingsley, Dusty Hannahs, and Daryl Macon didn’t play their best games. They were a combined 6-for-21 from the field. They did manage to get to the free throw line, which led to decent point totals (11 for Hannahs, 7 for Macon), but they weren’t very efficient.

The biggest concern is Kingsley. Through three games, the Preseason SEC Player of the Year has only shown flashes of the player we saw last season. He only took one shot in the second half against UT-Arlington. It’s hard to imagine why Arkansas wouldn’t look more to their star center in a close game like this. The guards were able to take Arkansas home tonight, but they’ll need more production as the season goes on from Kingsley. Last year, he only scored in single digits twice, and he’s already matched that total this season.

It also brings into question exactly how much depth Arkansas has. The Hogs only played 9 players on the roster. Freshmen C.J. Jones and Adrio Bailey didn’t play at all. Trey Thompson only played 7 minutes. That’s not normal from what we’ve seen from Mike Anderson in previous seasons. It will be interesting to see how that plays out as the season moves along and Arkansas begins to play more challenging opponents.

Yes, UT-Arlington is a Sun Belt team, but they are the Sun Belt favorites. It’s quite possible Arkansas just knocked off an NCAA Tournament team. The Mavericks brought back all 5 starters from last season and beat Memphis and Ohio State last year. They’re also a top 100 team in KenPom. There’s a good chance this will end up being a quality RPI win.

The Razorbacks now hit the road for their first Power 5 game next week when they travel to snowy Minnesota to take on the Gophers in Minneapolis on Monday. ‘Sota is 4-0 and beat UT-Arlington by a much larger margin than Arkansas did, so it will be a real test for the Razorbacks.