By Kevin McPherson
For the second consecutive game a 20-something-to-1 run doomed the Arkansas Razorbacks, only this time the knockout blow came quickly after the opening bell as the Auburn Tigers punched out to a 22-1 lead and cruised to a 79-56 home win Wednesday.
At home against Mississippi State on Saturday, the Hogs did not make a field goal for 8:37 as an overwhelming 23-1 Bulldogs run erased Arkansas’s 8-point early-second-half lead in a game that ended in a 77-67 MSU win. Four days later, it was an Auburn 22-1 sledgehammer that settled matters out of the gates as Arkansas failed to make a basket in the first 7:03 of the game and never got closer than a 17-point deficit the rest of the way.
Arkansas (14-12, 5-8 SEC) has now suffered its second 4-game losing streak of the season — prior to 2018-19, the Hogs had not had a single 4-game losing streak since former coach John Pelphrey’s ’09-10 campaign. Auburn (18-8, 7-6 SEC) has now won back-to-back games. The Hogs and Tigers have split their last six meetings. Arkansas dropped to 3-6 in true road games — including 2-5 in SEC road games — and the Razorbacks are now 4-7 this season in games played away from their home at Bud Walton Arena in Fayettville.
Auburn played fast and furious while catching fire from beyond the arc — the SEC’s best 3-point shooting team made 17-of-33 from distance for 51.5%, tying Florida for the most made 3-pointers in a game against Arkansas, ever. As for the Hogs, they looked sluggish and listless from the outset while struggling to make shots and take care of the basketball. Arkansas shot only 4-of-26 from 3 (15.4%). The Hogs were never competitive for more than a few scattered possessions, as the scoreboard reflected Auburn leads of 22-1, 39-9, 45-20 at halftime, 55-22, 67-36, and 75-46 as the game progressed.
“They came out with guns a-blazin’,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, who has not finished with an SEC regular-season losing record since his first year as Head Hog in ’11-12. “It was something we had talked about, just run those guys off the (3-point) line, and they came out knocking shots down. And then we couldn’t make any shots on our end. All of a sudden now you’ve got a big deficit that you’ve got to overcome.”
Auburn was as good defensively as it was on offense, limiting Arkansas to 19-of-58 field goals (32.8%) while forcing 15 turnovers. The Tigers both fronted and played behind the Razorbacks’ leading scorer, Daniel Gafford, limiting him to only 5 field goal attempts and 10 points in 27 minutes. Gafford — he also had 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block — has managed only 8, 8, and now 10 points in 3 of the Hogs’ 4 consecutive losses.
Hogs freshman shooting guard Isaiah Joe — he came in as the SEC leader in made 3-pointers and 3-point field goal percentage — finished with a team-high 14 points while accounting for all of Arkansas’s made 3-pointers, making 4-of-14 from distance (28.6%) in 37 minutes. Joe’s 91 made 3-pointers on the season is tops in the league, and he’s 11 shy of tying Scotty Thurman’s school record for the most made 3-pointers in a season (102). Second-leading scorer Mason Jones — coming off his career-high-tying 30 points against Mississippi State — managed only 4 points on 1-of-9 shooting, including 0-of-6 from 3.
A small silver lining for the Hogs was that their bench outscored the Tigers’ bench (22-19). Freshman combo guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in 23 minutes. Sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien made Arkansas’s first field goal of the game at the 12:57 mark, he was the Hogs’ co-leader in scoring at the half (6 points), and he finished with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block in 19 minutes. Freshman forward Reggie Chaney had 4 points, 2 steals, and 1 rebound in 16 minutes. Freshman combo guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson has 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in 22 minutes.
“I was proud of the guys coming off the bench,” Anderson said. “I thought Gabe came and gave us some great energy, some toughness. And that’s what you’ve got to have in this kind of environment. You’ve got to have guys come out and play with an edge, play with toughness. I thought he came out and gave us that. I thought Desi came out trying to impose his will on this game as well.”
Auburn’s senior guard and leading scorer, Bryce Brown, led the way with 19 points. The SEC’s second-most prolific 3-point shooter was 5-of-8 from distance (62.5%). He now has 90 made 3s, which trails Joe by one with five SEC games remaining. Including Brown, the Tigers had all five starters make at least 2 triples in the game. Anfernee McLemore finished with 13 points (2-of-3 from 3), Chuma Okeke had 11 points (3-of-5 from 3), Jared Harper had 10 points (3-of-7 from 3), and Malik Dunbar had 8 points (2-of-5 from 3).
The Tigers won rebounds (42-35), and though the Hogs won the turnover battle (20-15) they lost points-off-turnovers (24-18). Both teams shot poorly from the foul line — Auburn was 10-of-20 on freebies (50%), while Arkansas was 14-of-24 (58.3%). The Hogs came in as the worst free throw shooting team in the SEC (66.3%), but they had made no worse than 73.9% of their free throws in their previous four games.
Next up for the Hogs is a return home to host Texas A&M (7:30 p.m. CT, Saturday, Feb. 23, SEC Network).