By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
It’s no secret: Arkansas is going to press, press and press some more, and there isn’t a whole lot Mississippi State can do about it.
The two teams meet tonight in Bud Walton Arena, and the Bulldogs (7-9, 2-2 SEC) will have to find a way to solve the sort of pressure defense that’s continually given them trouble. A week ago today, Alabama used a full-court press to spark a 32-point win in Starkville.
MSU now has to deal with the “40 Minutes of Hell” that Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has revived since taking over in 2011. For a State team with just seven scholarship players and so little experience, it’s a tough thing to prepare for.
“Our thing is, we’ve got to make sure that we’re not rushing to try and break the press,” first-year coach Rick Ray said. “What I mean by that is, we need to take our time inbounding the basketball and not be in a rush, because you’re not going to get any fast break points against their press.”
Against Alabama, State committed 21 turnovers. On the season, the Bulldogs have a turnover margin of minus-0.6, while Arkansas leads the SEC with a plus-5.8.
Lowering the turnover number has been a season-long emphasis for Ray, but it’s not easy when only one of the currently healthy players – junior Jalen Steele – has significant returning experience.
“Things will be predicated by how we handle the basketball offensively,” Ray said. “If we’re turning the basketball over and not defensively rebounding the basketball, then that’s just going to give Arkansas more offensive possessions, thus they’re going to have a chance to score more points.”
“We’ve got to be calm and take care of the ball,” freshman guard Fred Thomas said.
The Razorbacks (11-6, 2-2) are second in the league in scoring, and the press is a big reason for that. Turnovers lead to easy buckets, which helps explain why Arkansas scores so much despite ranking 12th in the SEC in 3-point shooting (31.3 percent).
In Saturday’s 76-64 loss at Ole Miss, Arkansas shot 26.3 percent from 3-point range and 39.4 overall. In SEC games, the Hogs are averaging just 64.8 points per game, ranging from a 51-point outing against Texas A&M to an 88-point outburst versus Auburn.
Anderson isn’t overly pleased with the offensive output of late.
“We’re trying to find some consistency in terms of shooting the ball better and getting the tempo more up to how we want to play,” he said. “Defensively we’ve been doing some good things, but as you can see, you also need to score points.
“You’ve got to score points, and we haven’t been scoring as many points as I would like to.”