FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was concerned about his team's free-throw shooting last week, when the Razorbacks missed attempt after attempt in a narrow win against Southeastern Louisiana.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was concerned about his team’s free-throw shooting last week, when the Razorbacks missed attempt after attempt in a narrow win against Southeastern Louisiana.
Those concerns were alleviated, at least for one night, during the Razorbacks’ 71-57 win against Eastern Kentucky in front of an announced crowd of 7,500 in Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday.
Arkansas (7-3) continued to struggle offensively (31.6 percent), but won its second-straight game thanks to a group effort from the stripe. The Razorbacks made 29 of 35 attempts (82.9 percent), leaning on the performance to improve to 7-0 at home.
“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly great, but one thing we did we got to the free throw line,” Anderson said. “And (Tuesday night), unlike other nights, we actually cashed in on it and made free throws.
“It was a big difference in a game like this.”
Guard Mardracus Wade led the Razorbacks with 13 points, including 7-for-10 from the free throw line.
Guard B.J. Young, looking much more comfortable off the bench after a tentative performance in his first start last Saturday, added 12 points. And forward Marvell Waithe scored a career-high 11 points, including a 7-for-8 effort from the free-throw line.
“I don’t think we’re not bad shooters,” Waithe said of the free throws. “Once we get to the line we’re capable of knocking free throws down.”
Arkansas needed every bit of it in a game that featured another opponent intent to dictate the pace.
Eastern Kentucky had its way with the slow-starting Razorbacks in the opening minutes, too, outscoring Arkansas 9-2. But it didn’t take long for the Razorbacks to settle in, create opportunities with their pressure defense and gain control of the game.
Point guard Julysses Nobles and forward Devonta Abron led the way early, pushing the Razorbacks on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 9-9. It was the start of a longer stretch in which the Razorbacks outscored the Colonels 30-9 to build a 14-point lead.
Arkansas got contributions from several sources during the spurt. Wade made baskets and knocked down free throws. Young came off the bench to score seven of his 12 points and Ky Madden added seven.
“Those guys had won three road games, so they know what it takes to win on the road,” Wade said of the Colonels. “We go through adversity all the time. My main thing was tell the guys to keep playing.”
“If we do what we do, we won’t have to worry about the other team.”
Arkansas stumbled again, though, and had to settle for a 39-30 lead at halftime. But Wade helped the Razorbacks push it back to double digits when he opened the second half with a 3-pointer.
Arkansas never lost its double-digit lead the rest of the night and Anderson believes Arkansas’ pressure defense played a big role, forcing the Colonels to shoot 34 percent and turn the ball over 19 times.
But the Razorbacks struggled to put an opponent away for the second straight game after building a 19-point lead. The Colonels hung around, trimming the deficit to 10 points two times in the final 3 minutes.
“I thought they start playing not to lose,” Anderson said. “When you start playing not to lose you start trying to protect the lead. We’ve got to get to that point where we just continue to play basketball.
“When you get an ant down, you better kill it with a sledgehammer.”
Arkansas was fortunate it shot well from the free-throw line. The Razorbacks scored their final seven points from the stripe, knocking down 7 of 8 attempts over the final 4:34 to wrap up the win.
“Sometimes when your shots aren’t falling, you get to the line, it’s a blessing to see that ball go in the hole,” Waithe said. “It’s big.”
Arkansas made 14 more free throws than the Colonels (15 of 24). Fittingly, it was the margin of victory.
“We’re still doing what we’re supposed to do,” Wade said of the free throws. “Coach has been making us get 500 shots apiece every week and I think it’s starting to pay off. I think if we keep on working on free throws every day we’ll keep improving.”