FAYETTEVILLE — Taking back in the second half the turnovers they gave away in the first half, the Arkansas Razorbacks parlayed a 6-point halftime lead into an eventual 78-62 rout of the Stephen F. Austin University Lumberjacks in a late Thursday night game accommodating the SEC Network at Walton Arena.
“A good win against a good gritty team,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “We made runs but they refused to go away, especially the first half. The second half we did a much better attacking inside. It was a tale of two halves with our turnovers (10 in the first half and just three in the second half) and our defense was the difference in this game. We had like seven or eight straight stops.”
SFA, rebuilding from losing most of last season’s team that went 18-0 winning the Southland conference championship and winning 33 games advancing two rounds in the NCAA Tournament, only trailed 34-28 at half with Arkansas committing the 10 turnovers.
Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks only committed one miscue the first 10 minutes of the second half that they never led by less by 12 after scoring the second stanza’s first six points.
“I thought we got punched in the mouth to start the second half and we never responded,” first-year SFA Coach Kyle Keller, an assistant the last five years at Arkansas SEC rival Texas A&M, said. “That was 40 minutes of heck and Coach Anderson made great adjustments and we couldn’t guard them and his kids were relentless and found a way to get the ball to (Dusty) Hannahs (the Arkansas guard scoring 11 of his 15 total points in the second half.”
What forced Arkansas’ 10 first-half turnovers?
“We played a junk defense, a triangle and two, that bothered them in the first half,” Keller said. “We made them make quick decisions but they did a great job adjusting and we got exposed. And for awhile we were committing a turnover a minute. They took us out of everything we wanted to do.”
Arkansas advances to 5-1 and hosts Austin Peay University at 7 p.m. Saturday at Walton.
The Lumberjacks fall to 2-3.
Though missing the only two 3-pointers he took, Arkansas senior nationally renowned 3-point shooting guard Hannahs displayed scoring versatility driving to the hole and getting to the free throw line, 5 for 5, to lead Arkansas with 15 points.
“Dusty he had some good (3-point) looks tonight,” Anderson said. “But they (guard threes) are playing hard. So he is taking what the defense gives him. He’s getting to the free throw line and he’s scoring in transition and he’s making assists in transition (two credited assists and some passes prefacing assists) as well. He is becoming a more versatile scorer.”
Blanketed in the first half when he scored two points, Arkansas senior center and SEC Preseason Player of the Year Moses Kingsley asserted himself when the Hogs seized early second-half command.
Kingsley exited with the Hog up 20 and 2:21 left after scoring 12 points with six rebounds and two steals.
Senior guard Manuale Watkins led the Razorbacks, 29-25 rebounding advantage with seven boards.
Junior college transfer guard Ivan Canete led SFA with 14 points while SFA guard Kevon Harris scored 11. TJ Holyfield, the best returnee from last season’s 32-3 Lumberjacks only scored seven on Arkansas Thursday but led all rebounders with nine.
Arkansas played some of its best defense of this young season during Thursday night’s first half but because of committing the 10 turnovers had only a 34-28 lead to show for it.
SFA only led twice, 2-0, and 4-2 and had 2-2 and 4-4 ties before a Dustin Thomas bucket assisted by junior guard Anton Beard of North Little broke the tie to 6-4 at 16:32.
Liberally using his bench, including an all newcomers five, Anderson’s Hogs peaked their lead, 23-9 on a 3-pointer by freshman reserve guard C.J. Jones after Jones’ first of his two first-half the had the Hogs up 20-9.
However the Lumberjacks chopped the lead because of their own defense and Arkansas carelessness with the ball. Both teams committed 10 first-half turnovers but the Lumberjacks most capitalized. They outscored Arkansas, 16-11 on first-half miscues.
Holyfield’s basket with six seconds left trimmed the lead to 34-28 at intermission.
Hannahs sandwiching two free throws and a drive to the bucket around a Kingsley putback had the Hogs 40-28 by 17:50 of the second half. At 15:01 a Kingsley and-one 3-point play inside initiated by a Hannahs pass put the Hogs up 56-31 surpassing their largest lead of the first half.
“At halftime we talked that we had let them come back in the game and have some hope,” Hannahs said. “We came out in the second half with energy and cut off their hope.”
Kingsley credited it to defense.
“We had those seven or eight stops in a row,” Kingsley said. “We rotated to the guy they were kicking it to.”
And, Hannahs and Kingsley, noted they curtailed the turnovers and kept the Lumberjacks turning it over.
“I think the first half we kept tying the home run pass and we had a couple of travels,” Kingsley said. “The second half we did much better taking care of the ball.”
Arkansas finished with 13 total turnovers after its first 10 while forcing SFA into 11 second-half turnovers for a total 21 miscues.