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5 Observations from Arkansas' 72-65 loss to North Carolina

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Photographs by J.T. Wampler

Arkansas' Manuale Watkins (left) and Jaylen Barford cover North Carolina's Luke Maye Sunday March 19, 2017 during the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. The Tar Heels beat the Razorbacks 72-65 eliminating them from the tournament.

— Five observations from Arkansas' loss to North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

— Running out of gas

Arkansas players displayed a lot of raw emotion after the game, both on the court and in the locker room.

The Razorbacks did the improbable by erasing a 17-point deficit late in the first half and building a 65-60 lead with less than 4 minutes left. But fighting back from such a deep hole against a top-notch team required the Hogs to expend a great deal of energy. They looked gassed late.

Arkansas didn’t score on its final 6 possessions, going scoreless for the final 3:28 while North Carolina closed on a 12-0 run. There was minimal passing late in the game and the Hogs wound up settling for tough, contested looks late in the clock and couldn’t get them to drop. These were how the final possessions went:

— Up 65-62 with 2:27 left, Jaylen Barford missed contested 3-pointer after dribbling for a good chunk of the clock.

— Up 65-64 with 1:45 left, Barford missed a fadeaway, contested mid-range jumper late in the clock after dribbling for a good chunk of the clock and being walled off on a drive.

— Down 66-65 with 1:15 left, Daryl Macon missed a contested 3-pointer late in the clock after Barford dribbled for a good chunk of the clock. North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks got a piece of the ball, but also got a piece of Macon’s hand. It was a no-call and the Tar Heels were awarded the ball after it went out of bounds.

— Down 68-65 with 25 seconds left, Moses Kingsley posted up and drew a foul, but missed 2 free throws.

— Down 68-65 with 12 seconds left, Anton Beard missed a contested, pull-up 3-pointer.

— Down 70-65 with 6 seconds left, Dusty Hannahs was stripped at halfcourt.

Arkansas has been really good in crunch time most of this year, entering Sunday with a 6-2 record in two-possession games. The Razorbacks’ late stagnation smelled of tired legs. Barford, Beard and Macon all had issues with cramps in the second half. Macon had cooked the Tar Heels all day, but was off the floor dealing with a cramp when Barford missed the first 2 shots.

The Hogs were on the wrong end of a few calls. Most notably, Joel Berry used his left arm to create space against Adrio Bailey but wasn’t whistled for a charge. Berry missed the shot, but Meeks’ putback extended the lead to 68-65 with 44 seconds left.

But Arkansas weathered North Carolina shooting 25 free throws to its own season-low total of 8. The Razorbacks were on the precipice of the Sweet 16. They just ran out of gas.

— Pressure gets to Tar Heels

Arkansas’ signature pressure hasn’t been great this year. But it was a turn-back-the-clock kind of weekend in Greenville.

The Razorbacks beat Seton Hall in large part because they turned the Pirates over late. And they got back into the North Carolina game by extending their pressure and forcing Tar Heel miscues.

Save for Berry, North Carolina’s other ballhandlers looked shaky against a swarming, handsy Arkansas defense. ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson had 4 turnovers. Three other Tar Heels had 3.

North Carolina’s 17 turnovers are tied for the second-most Arkansas has forced against a major-college opponent this season. The Razorbacks ranked ninth in SEC play in opponent turnover percentage (17.6). Often, their full-court pressure served mostly to give opposing guards runways to the basket. Their halfcourt traps were rarely effective, more often leading to ball reversal and open shots.

But the Razorbacks played like a team possessed after waking up late in the first half on Sunday. Their turnover percentage ballooned to 22.7 percent, a figure that would’ve ranked 11th in the nation if it were for the entire season. And the performance came against a top seed, the sixth-most efficient offense in the nation.

Ten of the turnovers came in the second half, leading to 17 Razorback points off turnovers, huge because it allowed them to avoid facing a set North Carolina defense so often. The Hogs finished with 24 points off turnovers, their third-highest total against a major conference opponent.

Seven Razorbacks had steals. Adrio Bailey had 3 (much more on him in a bit), while Manny Watkins had 2. Watkins was a defensive stalwart in Greenville while serving as the primary defender for Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez and North Carolina’s Jackson, players who have 4-and 5-inch height advantages on him, respectively. Rodriguez went 4 of 17. Jackson was just 5 of 14. Watkins played great defense.

He wasn’t alone against the Tar Heels. It wasn’t enough to get the win, but North Carolina looked shaken against vintage pressure for a sizable part of the game.

— Macon shines on big stage

Daryl Macon checked in with 13:46 left in the opening half and turned the ball over 62 seconds later.

He was hardly alone. Arkansas threw a number of errant passes and looked hesitant against North Carolina’s length in the early stages of the game as the Tar Heels built a big lead.

But Macon turned it around for himself and his team. His 4-point play with 5:08 left in the opening half was the turning point. It cut a 17-point lead to 30-17 and started a 37-13 run that spanned both halves and resulted in a 50-46 lead.

He scored 14 of his game-high 19 during the run, including 12 in the final 5:08 of the first half.

The 4-point play got him going and he drew a foul on another 3-pointer. Drawing contact is a strength of his game. He’s done it all year and is like a seasoned NBA star in his ability to seek out contact and exaggerate its affects to better his odds of getting a whistle.

But he doesn’t overly rely on getting to the line. He can get buckets. He was off in the win over Seton Hall, finishing just 1 of 7, but was hyper-efficient Sunday, knocking down 6 of 8 shots, 3 of 5 3-pointers and all 4 of his foul shots. It’s hard to get much more efficient than 19 points on 8 shots.

The manner in which he scored can’t be undersold, either. Macon plays with a sly swagger when he’s on. And he was definitely on. All of his 3-pointers were huge. The 4-point play sparked the run. The 3-pointer he hit with 12 seconds left in the half allowed the Hogs to head into the locker room down just 5. And the cold-blooded 3 he hit with 8:16 left put Arkansas up 58-55.

He did other stuff, too. He dished 3 assists, including a sweet drive and dump-off to Kingsley for a jam.

The cramp that caused him to miss 3 minutes late in the game was a tough blow for the Hogs. He was arguably the best player on the court against a top seed loaded with talent. North Carolina didn’t have an answer for him. Only the cramps slowed him.

— Bailey unfazed by surprise role

It was no coincidence that Arkansas made its big run to close the first half and get back into the game with Adrio Bailey on the court.

Anderson turned to the freshman with 6:25 left, looking for a spark with Arkansas trailing by double digits, Dustin Thomas in foul trouble and Arlando Cook struggling.

Bailey didn’t disappoint. The moment wasn’t too big for him.

He produced 4 points and 2 steals in his short stint on the court. The Razorbacks were a plus-10 with him on the floor.

Four of those points came in quick succession. First, he scored off a feed from Anton Beard. Moments later, he came up with a steal off the press in the backcourt and finished. North Carolina’s lead went from 10 to 32-26 in the span of 12 seconds.

He added another steal shortly after checking in midway through the second half. Anderson played him at the 4 for the final 12:35, a huge show of trust for a freshman who hadn’t played double-digit minutes since early February and has been on the outside of the regular rotation for most of the season.

Bailey stepped up, finishing a plus-4 in a career-high 19 minutes, one of just 3 Razorbacks (Macon, Beard) to record a positive plus-minus. His athleticism allowed him to match up with North Carolina better than Dustin Thomas and Arlando Cook could.

He didn’t grab any rebounds, which would have helped, but he made an impact in other ways, most notably the steals. He also drew a charge on Jackson and should have had another on Berry’s drive late. In limited playing time, he’s shown a knack for positioning himself to draw charges and a willingness to sacrifice his body to make the play.

Even his 2 misses weren’t all bad. He clanged a pair of jumpers, not his strong suit. But he took both with no hesitation, something his older, more experienced teammates didn’t always do, especially early.

The moment didn’t get to Bailey. His offseason development will be intriguing. His ceiling is high because of his physical tools and motor.

— Beard game strong

Anton Beard has had a massively up-and-down season that’s trended mostly down over the course of the last month.

Five scoreless outings and dwindling minutes were the story late in his junior year. Beard was unquestionably last in the pecking order among the Razorbacks’ rotation guards. He played well against Georgia, scoring 6 points, dishing 2 assists and swiping 2 steals, providing hope that he was headed for a late-season comeback.

But he came into Sunday fresh off a bad performance against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game and a poor showing against Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 2 games during which he only averaged 14.5 minutes a game.

He put his struggles behind him Sunday, looking more like the Beard who was one of the Hogs’ best players the first 2 months of the season. He put together his best performance since January against North Carolina, scoring 10 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing 3 assists in 20 minutes off the bench.

Theoretically, North Carolina’s length is a bad matchup for the 6-foot Beard. But he played well, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers, grabbing as many rebounds as Kingsley and creating looks for teammates, an area he’s probably better at than any other guard on the team but a skill he hadn’t shown off consistently of late. Arkansas’ halfcourt offense was at its best with him in the game.

The potential tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left was a tough look, but one he’s never shied away from taking. The Hogs had to work quickly in that situation and there was little question Beard was taking the shot when he crossed halfcourt with the ball.

It didn’t go, but Beard was a big reason the Razorbacks were in that position. He put together a solid game, a positive sign heading into the offseason for a player with the skill set to be a key cog as a senior.

Stray Thoughts

— The charge/travel no call and the missed foul on Macon’s 3-pointer were the most egregious officiating errors, to me. Both came at huge times in the game and had a big impact on how the final minutes played out.

— Arkansas would have won if its rebounding had been better in the first half. North Carolina shot just 33 percent, but used 14 offensive rebounds to score 10 second-chance points. For the game, the Tar Heels shot only 38 percent but scored 16 second-chance points off 18 offensive boards. They won the rebounding battle 45-32. Arkansas did better in the second half, limiting North Carolina to 4 offensive boards on 14 misses. Watkins, in particular, was key, grabbing a team-high 8 boards, all on the defensive end. But the rebounding issues were a massive part of the game.

— Joel Berry looked fine in pregame, started and played 34 minutes on the ankle that he hurt 2 days earlier, but he didn't play well. He scored 10 on just 2 of 13 shooting, with both of his makes coming from his 8 3-point attempts. He would have been a scapegoat if North Carolina hadn't pulled it out.

— Barford competed, but finished with just 9 points on 4 of 14 shooting and had 5 turnovers. A lot of the shooting stems from his 1 of 6 night from 3. Several of his 3-pointers came late in the clock with him forced to get a shot up, including the 1 late.

— Moses Kingsley had a pair of nasty, emphatic blocks. Averaged 2.6 this year. Daniel Gafford has the tools to be a stud, but if he comes close to matching Kingsley’s rim protection as a freshman, it will be a heck of an accomplishment. The rest of Kingsley’s game wasn’t his best. He was just 4 of 12 from the floor, most of the makes spoon-fed by guards. He was 1 of 4 from the line with the 2 key misses late. And he only had 5 rebounds. But he played maybe the best game of his career against Seton Hall to get Arkansas to this point and his rim protection (part of the reason for his rebounding total) was key in keeping North Carolina’s offense in check. He was a deterring force on defense the last 2 years.

— The Duke and South Carolina fans in the building were actively rooting for the Hogs. There was a decent Arkansas contingent and obviously a sizable North Carolina one, but combining Arkansas with Duke and South Carolina’s seemingly gave Arkansas a numbers and noise advantage.

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