By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — Sluggish and sputtering while going 1-1 in their last two games, the Arkansas Razorbacks played in the mud again Wednesday night en route to dropping their second consecutive home game, 69-65, against Georgia Tech at Bud Walton Arena.
After winning 64 straight home games when leading at halftime, the Hogs (7-3) have now stumbled twice in a row after leading at the break at BWA, marking the first time that has happened since November 2009 (Morgan State and South Alabama), per HogStats.com.
Freshman guard Isaiah Joe gave the Hogs their final lead, 60-59, with his third 3-pointer with 2:15 left in the game, but Georgia Tech strung together a 6-0 run for a 65-60 lead with 48 seconds left to effectively put the game away for the Yellowjackets (6-4) of the ACC.
Sophomore wing Mason Jones did hit the last of his five 3-pointers with 3.1 seconds left to pull Arkansas within 67-65, but after a timeout and failing to force a turnover on the inbounds play, Arkansas fouled ‘Jackets freshman forward Khalil Moore, who made both free throws with 0:01 left to seal the win.
“I used to always say the ability to bounce back is so important,” said Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner, whose team lost at home 48 hours ago, 76-66, against Gardner-Webb. “And so our guys have done an outstanding job in my time. They’ve always been able to bounce back.
“I’m just telling you, it is hard to do when you come off of a loss to bounce back like that. That’s being resilient for those young men. And to do it here. I mean, this is hard place to play at and this (Arkansas) is a very good team.”
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said his team failed to seize on opportunities to be aggressive and attack.
“First off let’s give Georgia Tech credit,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “Josh had his team with the right mindset. I thought they played desperate. You could see that in the first half in the rebounding totals. With our basketball team I thought our inexperience kind of reared its head. One of the things we always work against a zone every day in practice. But I thought when we didn’t make some shots early on we got a little stagnant in the ball movement and getting to the baseline. Just being in in attack mode.
“You look at the free throw line. They got to the free throw line and we didn’t get to the free throw line. Our inability to take care of the basketball. We had 16 turnovers and they had eight steals. Those were turnovers that we just gave them. Guys not being in the attack mode and not making good passes. Again that’s a big part of the ballgame. But let’s give them credit.”
Arkansas has struggled mightily offensively facing zone defenses in the last three games, and the Hogs managed only 38.1% field goal shooting (24-of-63) overall while losing the glass, 43-31, against the Yellowjackets, who employed a stifling and opportunistic 1-3-1 zone that morphed into different looks throughout the game.
Conversely, Georgia Tech shot a respectable 45.5% from the field (25-of-55).
A 20-16 edge in turnovers resulted in a 23-13 advantage in points-off-turnovers for Arkansas, but it was not enough to offset being outscored at the free throw line (14-of-20 compared to 7-of-9) and in second-chance-points (15-2).
The Hogs came in averaging 85.3 points per game, but they hit a low mark at 65 points after managing only 77 and 79, respectively, against Western Kentucky and Texas-San Antonio. It adds up to only 73.3 points and a 1-2 record in their last three outings.
Georgia Tech sophomore point guard Jose Alvarado played all 40 minutes while scoring a game-high 20 points to go with 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 assist.
Junior forward James Banks III, a transfer from Texas, had a double-double — 14 points and 14 rebounds to go with 5 blocks, 3 assists, and 1 steal in 34 minutes. Michael Devoe (11 points) and Moore (10 points) rounded out the Yellowjackets’ double-digit scorer.
Arkansas was led by Jones’ 17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals. Sophomore center Daniel Gafford had 14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists, and 1 steal in 32 minutes before fouling out with 48 seconds to play. Joe had 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists in 31 minutes.
Jones and Joe combined for 8-of-25 from 3 for 32% as both were well below their season shooting percentages from distance. As a team, the Hogs were 10-of-32 from 3 for 31.3%, and they took three more shots from beyond the arc than they did inside it (32-29).
Arkansas started the game only 1-of-11 shooting (including 0-of-8 from 3) as Georgia Tech used a 13-0 run to fuel a 15-4 lead. The Hogs went nearly 9 minutes without a basket after Gafford opened the scoring with a close-range bucket at the 19:12 mark. Freshman guard Desi Sills’ first made 3-pointer with 10:27 left broke the field goal drought.
But Arkansas warmed up from the field (10-of14 field goals including 6-of-9 behind the arc) to staple together runs of 10-2 and 8-2 for a slim 32-31 halftime lead.
Both teams had a sloppy start to the second half, but Arkansas broke a tie game with a 5-0 mini-run on a dunk by Gafford and a 3-pointer by Sills for a 43-38 lead with 13:29 left in the game.
The Yellowjackets responded with a 10-0 run for a 48-43 lead at the 9:39 mark.
Arkansas would battle back as sophomore point guard Jalen Harris had a personal 5-0 run to put the Hogs back on top, 53-52, with 6:11 remaining.
The teams would trade baskets after that until Joe’s 3 that gave the Hogs their last lead at 60-59 with 2:15 to go. From there, Georgia Tech outscored Arkansas 10-5 for the final margin.
Georgia Tech improved to 5-2 all-time against Arkansas, including a 5-game winning streak in the series.
The Hogs are two non-conference games away — Texas State on Dec. 22 and Austin Peay on Dec. 28, both at BWA — from closing out the December portion of their schedule before opening up SEC play on the road against Texas A&M on Jan. 5, 2019.