Beyond the Box: Inside Arkansas’ collapse to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament

20 minutes of great basketball followed by a complete collapse.

That’s been a consistent theme for the Arkansas Razorbacks this season, and it happened once again in their 67-61 quarterfinal loss to Texas A&M on Friday night.

Arkansas looked like the better team from the tip and were up by 13 heading into halftime, 38-25. However, as has happened in so many games already this season, the lead vanished in the second half after a frustrating performance on both ends of the floor. Texas A&M roared back and led by as much as eight with about a minute left to go.

The Razorbacks finally showed some fight to cut the Aggie lead to four with 27 seconds to go, but Texas A&M was able to complete the historic comeback and send Arkansas home.

Here’s a closer look at what led to another disappointing second half collapse from the Hogs.

Second half offense

(Photo by Steve Roberts – USA TODAY Sports)

After starting the game right where they left off following the win over Auburn, the Arkansas offense went completely cold in the second half.

The Razorbacks were able to build a 13-point lead behind 54.2% shooting and taking high-quality, uncontested shots. In the final 20 minutes, there was a lot of settling for contested jumpers and missed shots around the rim that are usually falling. Arkansas shot 9-30 from the field – 30.0% – in the second half, including 0-8 on 3-pointers. Some of that is a credit to Buzz Williams and his halftime adjustments, but a lot of that blame is on the players just not executing.

“I think we took better shots in the first half. Easier shots. High-level shots,” said Anthony Black following the game. “In the second half they just started flying around on defense and we started throwing the ball away and missing shots.”

Arkansas hasn’t been good in the second half in a lot of their games this which is usually the opposite of what we’ve grown accustom to seeing from Eric Musselman-coached teams.

“Historically, we’ve been good in the second half, this season we’ve not been good in the second half of games,” said Musselman. “We’re young. Halftime speech has been the same over the last eight years. Adjustments been the same. We’re just a young team.”

The youth and inexperience is evident in a lot of the shot selection. Instead of attacking the basket and taking what the defense is giving them, we’ve seen players settle for contested shots or wait until late in the shot clock and be forced into a low-percentage shot.

This Arkansas team is very dangerous because they have a lot of talent, but their inexperience is something that will prevent them from being able to make it as far as they should go in the NCAA Tournament.


(Photo by Steve Roberts – USA TODAY Sports)

In Thursday night’s win over Auburn, Arkansas was able to outrebound the Tigers by 18 which has been a big point of emphasis from[autotag]Eric Musselman[/autotag] of late.

The Razorbacks were on the other end of the rebounding battle tonight, as the Aggies had complete control from the onset. Arkansas was outrebounded 43-26 overall and 17-8 on offensive rebounds.

How important was rebounding in this game?

Texas A&M was able to score 15 second chance points off of offensive rebounds. Arkansas was only able to score 9 second chance points. That’s a 6-point disparity. The final score margin? 6 points. 67-61.

“The biggest theme heading into the game was rebounding the basketball,” said Musselman. “Obviously, 26 to 43, we did not rebound the ball.”

Arkansas has lost four out of their last five games and in every one of those losses, they lost the rebounding battle. It’s clear that at this point in the year the Razorbacks can’t really have success when they’re getting dominated on the glass.

Free throw disparity

(Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports)

The free throw disparity for both teams in each half was very perplexing and evident of a shift in the officiating from one half to the next. Now, this isn’t me saying that the officiating cost the Razorbacks the game because it didn’t. At all.

However, there was a noticeable difference in how some things were called in the first half to how they were called in the second and Arkansas just never could adapt.

Arkansas shot 10 free throws in the first half and 9 in the second half, which is pretty consistent. Texas A&M only went to the charity stripe twice in the first half, but was awarded 22 trips in the second half. Following the halftime break, the Aggies weren’t whistled for a foul until there was 11:46 left to play. In that same span, Arkansas was called for seven team fouls. That stretch was enough to change the complexion of the game in unison with Texas A&M’s more aggressive gameplan.

“The first half was physical on both sides of the floor,” said Musselman. “Texas A&M beat us, but if you get down 7-0 in the foul count at any level it affects your aggressiveness defensively, especially (against) a team that shoots foul shots like Texas A&M.”

The main issue was that instead of adjusting to a more tightly-officiated game, Arkansas continued to settle for contested jumpshots instead of trying to force the issue by attacking the rim. That goes with my previous point on the youth and inexperience of this team. Regardless, as Eric Musselman pointed out, an eight-minute span of your opponent not being whistled for a foul is enough to affect how a game is played.

Rotations and fatigue

(Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports)

The SEC Tournament is a much different beast than the NCAA Tournament. Instead of having a day between games, like in the NCAA Tournament, the SEC Tournament is a four-to-five day grind where you play every day.

Eric Musselman prides himself on his attention-to-detail and obsessive preparation before games. He also is notorious for using shorter rotations than other coaches, rarely playing more than eight guys. In the win over Auburn on Thursday night, six Razorbacks played 21 minutes or more. [autotag]Kamani Johnson[/autotag] was next on the team in minutes-played and tallied a whopping eight minutes of game action, exactly.

Against Texas A&M, Musselman played just seven guys the whole night. [autotag]Makhel Mitchell[/autotag] played the least amount of any Arkansas player against the Aggies, which was 15 minutes. Meaning those same six Razorbacks played the bulk of the minutes in back-to-back nights.

The shorter rotations that Musselman runs are not conducive to a run in the SEC Tournament’s format. Having a day of rest in-between games, like in the NCAA Tournament, is a much better fit and is what ultimately matters most. Fatigue wasn’t the biggest factor, but it definitely played a small role in Texas A&M storming back to win in the second half on Friday night.

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire