LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Razorbacks know what it feels like to have a multi-game winning streak snapped inside Bud Walton Arena, but for the second consecutive game they get a chance to play the role of streak-buster at home when Austin Peay comes to Fayetteville on Friday riding the wave of six wins in a row.
Arkansas (8-3) is coming off a 73-70 home win Saturday that halted Texas State’s 8-game winning streak, and now the Hogs take on the Governors (8-4) of the Ohio Valley Conference. Four of Austin Peay’s six straight wins have been played either on the road or at a neutral site. Tip-off is set for shortly after 7 p.m. CT, and the game will be live-streamed via coverage provided by SEC Network Plus.
“We’ve just got to get that rhythm back,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, whose Hogs have failed to break the 80-point scoring mark while going 2-2 in their last four games. “We continue in this nonconference schedule playing an Austin Peay team that’s pretty hot right now, (Governors head coach) Matt Figger used to be at South Carolina and Kansas State with Frank Martin. Obviously, they bring that physical brand of basketball. They are a team averaging 85 points a game and have a 6-game winning streak. It’s a team that has experience. Some very, very talented players. Balanced scoring. And they rebound the ball at a high clip.
“I think it’s going to be a very physical ballgame and we’ve got to match that physicality and rebound the basketball and try to get the tempo. I think the tempo is where we are really trying to get it more uptempo to our liking in terms of possessions. Multiple possessions as opposed to having those games where it comes down to the last possession of the game. So I’m looking for us to continue to develop our bench. That is going to be a big key for us moving forward.“
In their last outing against Texas State, the Hogs shook up their starting lineup for the first time in 2018-19 as Anderson inserted freshman forward Reggie Chaney in place of junior forward Adrio Bailey, a move that ended the Hogs’ 10-game run to begin the season of starting the same lineup of Daniel Gafford, Jalen Harris, isaiah Joe, Mason Jones, and Bailey.
Not only did the Razorbacks overcome a 13-point deficit to snap the Bobcats’ 8-game winning streak, they snapped their own 2-game home skid — losses to Western Kentucky (78-77) and Georgia Tech (69-65). Prior to the Western Kentucky loss, Arkansas had won 6 consecutive games. Since then, the Hogs have struggled to score against zone defenses while bumping along with a 2-2 record.
A win over Austin Peay would be the start of another home win streak heading into SEC play. The Hogs began league action in December in each of the past two seasons, but they open up SEC play next week on the road against Texas A&M on Jan. 5. That means the Austin Peay game is their only contest in a two-week span.
“You think about last year, our conference started a lot earlier last year,” Anderson said. “This year it went back to that first weekend in January. So with this young team it gives the opportunity to come in and get some work done. We’ll have some 2-days, 1-a-days, maybe even 3-a-days, I don’t know. Whatever it takes to get this team to advance to playing at a certain level.
“And one of the things we’ve got to do is be consistent with the basketball. The last couple of games we’ve turned the ball over too many times. Just careless with the basketball. Defensively, we are still doing some pretty good things. But I think as you get closer and closer to the conference time you want to continue to try and play some of your better basketball. I always say, February and March we play some of our better basketball. But I think now with this young team we’ve got to get certain guys stepping up and really playing, knowing those are guys we have to count on.”
The Governors come in averaging 85 points and 39 rebounds per game while shooting 47.9% field goals, 37.8% 3-point field goals, and 71.1% free throws. Terry Taylor, a 6-5 sophomore, leads four Austin Peay players averaging double-figures in scoring with 17.8 points per game on 53.1% field goal shooting to go with 8.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. Three seniors — 6-0 Zach Glotta, 6-5 Chirst Porter-Bunton, and 6-4 Steve Harris — each average double-figures in scoring as they combine for 34.1 points per game. Austin Peay has a total of 7 players who average at least 8 points per game.
Arkansas comes in averaging 82.4 points per game, but only 72.0 in their last four games as opponents have used multiple zone defensive looks to control pace and tempo, limit scoring opportunities inside for Gafford, and slow down perimeter ball movement while covering up shooters Joe and Jones. One area that has improved for Arkansas is at the free throw line. Through their first eight games the Hogs were shooting 62.3% from the line, but a 62-of-83 effort (74.7%) at the line in the last three games has boosted their season free-throw shooting to 66.1%.
“Come out with greater energy, come out with much better focus, come out with a great sense of urgency,” Anderson said of solving Arkansas’s recent sluggish starts in games. “That’s the thing we talked about. We’ve got to be more consistent in how we play. It’s funny, how we were playing earlier, we came out and got off to some great starts. Then all of a sudden you have some lulls.
“And part of it is me, too. I’m tinkering with the lineups trying to get certain guys going, and putting them in different positions they haven’t been in before. Just to see how they respond. Let’s say, a guy like Reggie. The other day he starts for the first time and I’m sure he was starstruck. It’s one thing to get out there, but once he came back in after that, I thought he had settled down.”
Gafford, a 6-11 sophomore center from El Dorado, leads the Hogs in scoring (17.6 points per game, third in the SEC), rebounds (9.3, second in the SEC), blocks (2.4, fourth in the SEC), and field goal percentage (65.8%, first in the SEC and 14th in the nation).
“He’s more consistent this year,” Anderson said of Gafford. “He’s getting to the free throw line a lot more. He’s got to be one of the guys that can either make plays or get other guys involved. I think from a maturity standpoint he’s got a lot coming at him. The teams are getting more physical with him and he’s got to continue to make that adjustment. But he has some help. I think that’s the biggest answer for him.
“Early on I think he was trying to go get it, losing so many players from last year. The questions hadn’t been answered, who are those guys that are going to help us. Now we’re seeing Isaiah can get us some points. We’re seeing a guy like Mason being involved. Jalen Harris. Our bench is slowly starting to emerge. And of course a guy like Adrio I think has got to show his experience of being here and done that before. So those guys can kind of lean on his shoulders a little bit.”
Joe, a 6-5 freshman guard from Fort Smith, joins Gafford as the only Hogs to score in double-figures in all 11 games. Joe is averaging 15.9 points (second on the team) and 1.4 steals (first on the team) while leading the SEC in made 3-pointers (42) and 3-point field goal percentage (44.7%).
“We worked on offense, but one other thing we worked on is pushing the tempo,” Joe said when asked about the Hogs’ preparations in practice. “We let the teams slow us down too many times, and we have to play at the Fastest 40 tempo, so once we get that down and we consistently play at our pace then we should be good.”
Jones, a 6-5 sophomore-transfer wing, tied his career-high with 21 points in the win over Texas State. Jones is averaging 14.5 points (third on the team), 5.3 rebounds (second on the team), 3.2 assists (second on the team), and 1.2 steals (second on the team).
Harris, a 6-2 sophomore-transfer point guard, leads the SEC in assists per game (6.6), and he’s tops in the league and third in the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio (5.62). He also leads the Hogs at the free throw line at 81.6%.
Hog food for Hog thought …
— After starting the season 6-1 and climbing to No. 32 on the NCAA’s NET rating — which replaces RPI this season to help the NCAA tournament selection committee determine at-large bids and seeding — Arkansas sits at No. 95 after going 2-2 (including two homes losses) in its last four games. The Hogs’ opponent on Friday — 8-4 Austin Peay — is currently ranked No. 109.
— Arkansas is 1-0 against the current NCAA NET Top 25 — the win being a 73-72 home triumph over No. 12 Indiana — with 5 more games upcoming against the current NCAA NET Top 25 … at No. 7 Texas Tech, at No. 8 Tennessee, home against No. 18 Mississippi State, at No. 21 Kentucky, and at No. 24 Auburn.
— Arkansas has 7 upcoming games against the current NCAA NET Nos. 26-50 — home-and-away against each of No. 27 LSU, No. 42 Vanderbilt, and No. 45 Ole Miss, plus a home game against No. 50 Florida.
— The Razorbacks are now 3-3 in one-possession games inside of 2 minutes to play — the wins coming against Indiana (11-2, ranked No. 23 by the Associated Press), Texas State (10-2), and Texas-San Antonio (5-7), and the losses coming against Texas (7-4), Western Kentucky (6-6), and Georgia Tech (6-5).
— In its three losses by a combined 7 points, Arkansas has led inside of the final minute against both Texas and Western Kentucky, and it held a lead inside the final two minutes against Georgia Tech.
— Gabe Osabuohien, a 6-8 sophomore forward, had arguably his best game as a Razorback in the 73-70 win over Texas State. He had 4 points (including his second career made 3-pointer), a career-high 5 rebounds, a career- and team-high 4 assists, and 2 drawn charges in 22 minutes off the bench. Osabuohien leads the Hogs in drawn charges with 9 on the season.
— Arkansas has been up-and-down on the glass, losing the rebounding battle in its first four games, then winning it three games in a row, before losing the battle of the boards in three of its last four games. The last two games equated to the Hogs’ worst stretch of rebounding as the team was a combined minus-20 while being outscored 36-5 in second-chance-points.
— As poorly as Arkansas shot from the free throw line in its first eight games — 62.7% — the Hogs’ near-75% effort over the past three games has bumped the season number up to 66.1%, which is actually slightly better than Arkansas’s opponents are shooting (65.8%).