There were plenty of discussion points going into this game, with most of the attention being paid to the different offensive paces of both teams. Arkansas came in leading the SEC in scoring, averaging 94 points per game, good for 11th in the nation, while the Tigers led the nation in scoring defense.
The fast paced Razorback offense of coach Mike Anderson goes back to the early 1990's where it was spearheaded by legendary coach Nolan Richardson. For those of you who haven't seen the ESPN 30 for 30 special "40 Minutes of Hell" regarding the coaching of Nolan Richardson, I highly recommend it as it details the philosophy that coach Richardson passed on to his then point guard at Tulsa and current Razorback coach Mike Anderson.
I do want to point out something to the Tiger fans that were watching the game today, THAT is how a crowd is supposed to show up for a game. Even when the town of Fayetteville is shut down due to snow and ice, the Arkansas faithful still managed to get a large crowd into the arena, and that crowd is a big reason why Arkansas has not lost a home contest in 19 games, a streak that is the 6th longest in the country.
The Tigers came out with a completely different game plan this afternoon. They decided that they were going to attack the paint and rely less on the outside jumper. This was evident when Clemson took an early 6-2 lead off of driving layups from K.J. McDaniels and Damarcus Harrison. Shortly after that, Kikko Haydar hit a three pointer which would start a barrage of Arkansas long distance shots that continued to fall.
As the Tigers continued to attack the basket and get to the free throw line, the Razorbacks bought their time. With Clemson up 13-10 after a pair of Jordan Roper free throws, Michael Qualls hit back-to-back three pointers to give Arkansas the lead 16-13.
An Anthlon Bell three pointer would stretch the Arkansas lead to 23-15 at the 9:29 mark before Harrison and McDaniels would steal the show. After a pair of free throws from Devin Coleman, McDaniels and Harrison lead Clemson on a 9-0 run, taking only two minutes, scoring all 9 points and ending with an emphatic McDaniels dunk to reclaim the lead 26-24.
It would be the last lead that Clemson would have as the shots went cold from then on out as Clemson didn't score for the next 3 and a half minutes, and back to back three pointers from Alandise Harris and Rashad Madden put Arkansas back in the lead 30-26 with 4:14 remaining in the half. The half would end with Harris hitting yet another three with 4 seconds remaining as Arkansas went into halftime with a 40-32 lead.
There was reason for optimism at halftime for the Tigers. McDaniels and Harrison were scoring, and there was no way that Arkansas was going to continue to shoot as such an amazing pace from behind the ark, ending the half making 9-16 shots. Clemson was playing to Arkansas' pace, but seemed to be the more comfortable team running the floor. The press was easily broken many times in which the ball would be doubled and moved back to the in-bounder for a transition fast break in which the Tigers would frequently cash in. At times, you saw Clemson attempt to slow the pace down, especially with under four minutes remaining in the half, where Brownell's motion offense was run, but the Tigers would come away with nothing but lost clock, and Arkansas would continue to stretch their lead.
Much has been made of Clemson's depth, but Arkansas put the Tiger bench to shame leading the bench scoring by a margin of 21-4 at the half.
There is only one way to describe the second half of this game, and that is ugly. The turning point in this game happened immediately out of the locker room as Madden hit threes on consecutive possessions off of offensive rebounds. These second chance points would balloon the lead to 14 and prompted a timeout from Brad Brownell to organize the troops.
Clemson then made the strategic move to switch to a zone defense at the 17 minute mark to slow down the Arkansas transition game. While it wasn't perfectly executed, it was effective as the Razorbacks pulled back, and slowed the tempo back down to Clemson's pace.
Rod hall would single handedly keep the deficit at 14 knocking down a pair of free throws and making back to back driving layups at the 16:02 mark when they were sorely needed as Arkansas had adjusted to keep McDaniels and Harrison out of the paint.
The lead would remain 14 until Clemson made their final push at a victory, starting with a Landry Nnoko put back with 5:19 remaining. (His first and only bucket of the game) A pair of Adonis Filer free throws, a Harrison layup and a McDaniels put back off a Filer miss would trim the lead to 8 prompting Mike Anderson to take a timeout. McDaniels would then spot up from the left of the key and bury a three with 2:49 remaining to pull the Tigers within 5 at 65-60.
Arkansas would miss several free throws down the stretch giving Clemson the chance to inch closer, but a poor decision on a possession with a minute remaining in the half by Rod Hall to not get the ball in K.J. McDaniel's hands would cost the Tigers as Hall would miss the mid-range jumper, and Arkansas would hang on for a 74-68 Victory.
McDaniels would lead all scorers with 27 points and 11 rebounds, his second career double double. Damarcus Harrison went silent in the second half, but finished second in scoring with 13 points on 5-14 shooting. Rod hall would be the third Tiger in double figures finishing with 10 points and four assists, but with a rare four turnovers to go with them. Clemson would finish with 13 turnovers for the afternoon.
Michael Qualls would lead Arkansas in scoring, dropping 17 on 6-7 shooting. Rashad Madden added 14, while Bobby Portis would finish with 13. Arkansas would finish 43.1% from the field and 47.6% from behind the arc while Clemson only mustered 32.8% from the field, with 20.0% for three. Clemson would get to the free throw line 29 times, making 25 for an 86.2% performance.
That was it for the Tigers. Take McDaniels, Harrison and Hall out of the equation and the rest of the team made three field goals the entire game, shooting 3-25. Combine that with the fact that the three Tiger big men had 9 more fouls than points, mustering only three for the entire contest, and that is a recipe for a loss. The Tigers did hold a massive edge on the boards, led by 10 from Sidy Djitte, outrebounding the Razorbacks 45-30 with 19 offensive rebounds, but those offensive rebounds only translated into 15 points.
While I was proud of the Razorback fan base filling the arena on a nasty day, I have a bone to pick with a select few of them. Fans watching on television saw Tiger Sidy Djitte (of Senegal) go to the free throw line after a flagrant foul and was serenaded by the fans with a chant of U-S-A, U-S-A. The last time I witnessed this was in the basketball version of the "Backyard Brawl" between Pittsburgh and West Virginia at a game in Morgantown several years ago. It was classless then, and it was classless this afternoon. If you are going to attempt to get on a player, you better come up with something a little more intelligent than "well he isn't from this country, we must be better than him." Where does he get off coming to this country to pursue a college education and play basketball? I mean it's like somebody put a sign up outside our country that said "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses....oh wait a minute...(but that is a story for a different blog)
Clemson has the week off before returning to the hardwood next Saturday to face the Furman Paladins at 7pm in Littlejohn Coliseum.